SOUTH BEND — David Toms barely needed to break par to win last year’s U.S. Senior Open. On Thursday, a record round only got him a share of the lead.
Toms and Steve Stricker each shot an 8-under-par 62 in this year’s opening round at the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame, matching the lowest score in U.S. Senior Open history.
“Today was all about getting off to a good start,” Toms said. “Obviously 62 is a bonus, but you’re the defending champion, you just want to get out there and play golf. You want to try to be in the golf tournament after the first day and not shoot yourself out of it. It’s a long week, we all know that.”
Scores were much lower Thursday than they were at last year’s event, held at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo. Toms won that title by finishing at 3-under, one of only six golfers to break par for the tournament.
On Thursday, more than 40 golfers finished their opening round below par.
“I saw some good scores this morning before I teed off,” Stricker said. “It looked like there were some birdies to be made out there. But being a USGA tournament and setup, it’s always important to keep the ball in play, in the fairways and give yourself some opportunities and I was able to do that.”
Kirk Triplett and Jerry Kelly were two shots behind the leaders at 64, with Vijay Singh, Duffy Waldorf and Toru Suzuki all shooting 65.
Toms is vying to become the first player to win back-to-back U.S. Senior Open titles since Allen Doyle in 2005 and 2006.
Toms didn’t play his best golf right away. He began on the back nine, and bogeys on 12 and 14 left him at even par after five holes. But he birdied four of his next six holes, and after three straight pars, closed with four more birdies to take the early lead.
“Early in the round I just felt like I was being too aggressive,” Toms said. “I was trying to hit the perfect shot a couple times, didn’t make the swing and paid the price. So let’s just focus, when we’re in a good spot we can attack it, when we’re not, let’s just hit it on the green. It started to pay off because I felt good with the putter. My speed was really good today, which I’ve been struggling with that.”
It appeared as though Toms’ lead might hold up until Stricker eagled No. 17 to pull into a tie at 8-under. He then narrowly missed a par putt on No. 18 that would’ve given him sole possession of the record and the lead.
Stricker is looking to rebound after missing a putt last weekend that would have won him the American Family Insurance Championship in his hometown of Madison, Wis.
Kelly, also a Madison resident, ended up beating Stricker and Retief Goosen in a playoff.
“Whenever you have that opportunity to win a golf tournament and you don’t make the putt or hit the shot that you’re supposed to, it bugs you,” Stricker said. “I didn’t sleep very well Sunday night and Monday night.
“I was anxious to play. I was anxious to get back out there for that reason. It was a good day, a good start.”
Contact: bsanders@TheHP.com, 429-1294, @HPBenSanders