SOUTHPORT, England (AP) — Gene Sauers mastered a stiff breeze to shoot a 3 under 67 and take the first round lead by one stroke at the Senior British Open on Thursday.
The 50-year-old from Georgia parred all the way to the turn to be out in 34 at sunny Royal Birkdale. He then picked up a birdie at the 10th, bogeyed the 11th, but had three successive birdies from the 15th to be back in 33 and leave all the big names trailing.
“I hit a lot of solid shots in the wind, so it didn’t really mess with me too much,” Sauers said. “I’m really pleased with the way I played. This is only my third British Open and it’s a great privilege and honor to be here.”
Sauers is 23rd in the Champions Tour money list with earnings of over half a million dollars, having made 11 cuts from 11 starts this year with two second place finishes and a third.
His 67 put him a shot in front of four players, with another five a stroke further back. Only 10 of the 144-strong field bettered par.
Leading the group on 68 is 2010 British Senior Champion, Bernhard Langer.
The German, who won the title at Carnoustie, is alongside South African David Frost, Australia’s Peter Senior and Frankie Minoza from the Philippines.
On 69, are former US Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin, who finished second a stroke behind Langer on his British Senior Open debut at Carnoustie three years ago, his fellow Americans Gary Hallberg, John Cook and Jeff Hart and another Australian, Peter Fowler.
Tom Kite, Steve Pate, Mark Wiebe, Rocco Mediate, Steve Jones and Tom Pernice Jnr are among a large group on level par 70 along with Scotland’s Sandy Lyle, Ireland’s Mark McNulty and New Zealander Greg Turner.
Defending champion Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara, who won the British Open title a Birkdale in 1998, both shot 74s, with their playing partner, senior rookie Colin Montgomerie faring two strokes better.
Langer finished with a flourish, with birdies on three of his last four holes — having dropped just one shot in the previous 14 at the par four sixth.
“I was very pleased with my long game and finally the putter started working at the end,” said Langer.
Frost picked up a birdie at the sixth to be out in 33, birdied 10 to go two under, but then dropped shots at the 13th and 16th before an eagle at the long 17th got him back in 35.
Senior, out in level par 34 with one birdie and one bogey, moved to three under the card with birdies at 10, 11 and 17 before dropping a stroke at the last.
“I think there will be a lot of good scores out there,” Senior said. “The course is playing nice and it gives you a lot of opportunity.”
Minoza fought back from being four over par after just three holes to post the early clubhouse lead on 68. The Fillipino dropped a stroke at the first and then three more at the third, birdied the fourth and fifth, before dropping another stroke at the eighth to be out in one over 37.
But he had a birdie blitz on the way home, picking up strokes at the 10th, 14th, 15th and 16th and 18th to be back in 31.
Cook would have set the pace much early only for a double-bogey at the last, turning a potential 67 into a 69.
“It was one of those terrible mistakes that you make and learn from. But I’m pleased to be under par in a major championship,” Cook said.
Hallberg, second to Freddie Couples at Turnberry last year said: “I just seem to get up for these tournaments over here. Last year was fantastic and to have a start like this is great.”
With an eagle, four birdies, three bogies and a double-bogey on his card, he said: “That’s my game. It’s up and down. But it was just a joy to play out there. It was beautiful.”