By Ken MacLeod
EDMOND – With all the hometown heroes either out of the tournament or well back, it’s up to international super stars Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer to draw the interest of Oklahoma fans this weekend at the 2014 U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National.
Langer, looking for his 93rd professional victory, sandwiched bogeys on holes 15 and 16 with birdies on 14 and 17 followed by another bogey on 18 to shoot a 2-under 69 and is 4-under, two shots behind Montgomerie and one back of unheralded Scott Dunlap, a Champions tour rookie who never won on the PGA Tour.
Montgomerie started the day at 6-under but played the first six holes in 2 over. He answered the many doubters who thought he would wilt in the afternoon heat by playing 2-under after that, including nearly making an ace on the par-3 17th, to shoot even-par 71. If the heat is going to wear down the doughy Scotsman, it will be on the weekend.
“I got off to a poor start with poor drives, but buckled down and got on with it,” Montgomerie said. “I’m happy with even par. It’s never easy. This was a good effort. This is hard on a Scotsman with all this heat.”
Montgomerie kept his round going with a key pitch on the 10th hole from 90 yards to 3 feet to save par.
“That was absolutely the key to the round,” Montgomerie said. “If I go to 3-over (on his round) there, than I’m pressing. You don’t want to be pressing out here.”
In the final group Saturday with Monty will be the surprising Dunlap, who played the PGA Tour for six full seasons (1996-97, 1999-2002 and 2012) without a victory while having more success on the web.com Tour. He played his final nine holes in 3 under Friday to claim sole possession of second place at 5-under.
Dunlap, who didn’t play a practice round, has just one bogey in 36 holes and none on his card Friday, the only man in the field to register a bogey-free round. He said practice rounds are overrated and went off his memories of playing here in 1984 in the U.S. Amateur. Dunlap said he would rather watch soccer, go to a movie or a restaurant than practice after a round.
“One bogey, I take my hat off to him,” Langer said of Dunlap, then literally took off his hat. “You can make bogey on every hole out here. To only have one bogey is pretty great golf.”
Tied with Langer at 4-under is Gene Sauers of Savannah, Ga., after a pair of 69s. Sauers eagled the seventh hole and birdied the par-3 eighth. Lurking at 3-under is Jeff Sluman, who won the 1988 PGA Championship at Oak Tree National. Also at 3-under are Mark Brooks, Doug Garwood and Lance Ten Broeck.
For the Oak Tree Gang, all of whom played Friday morning, it was another dose of frustration.
Scott Verplank, who carried too heavy a load of expectations into the tournament, proved again his game is just not there at the moment, shooting his second consecutive 4-over 75 to miss the cut at 8-over.
Bob Tway had it at 3-under for the day and even par for the tournament after knocking in a short birdie putt on the par-4 5th, his 14th. He then promptly played his closing four holes in 5 over for a bitterly disappointing 75, tied with Willie Wood and one shot ahead of Gil Morgan.
Because Oak Tree National is playing so difficult, Morgan, Wood and Tway all were inside the 7-over cut line and will play the weekend.
“You know what, I would be despondent if I was playing in the Portugal 3-ball right now,” Verplank said. “It’s great to be at home and have all the people out. The fans are awesome and I played with a couple of good guys. I don’t know what to do? Throw my clubs in a lake? That’s not going to help me any. I just have to figure out what I have to do next.”
Tway’s frustration was epitomized by the par-5 seventh hole. His 3-iron second shot came up short. He then hit a poor pitch that went long and over the green right. Faced with a delicate chip over some sprinkler heads, he elected to putt and the ball went right in one of the sprinkler heads and stopped 30 feet short of the hole, leading to a bogey on a reachable par-5.
“It’s kind of how I’ve played,” Tway said. “If I hit the ball well, I play good. If I miss greens, I play bad. My short game is terrible.”
Morgan, who admitted prior to the tournament that he was more concerned with not playing badly in front of the hometown fans than winning, struggled to a 76 and is tied for 45th.
Also making the cut was Stillwater pro Bill Glasson at 4-over after a pair of 73s. Only 10 players are under par, a number that will likely dwindle over the weekend.