The Norman Transcript
EDMOND — The practice range at Oak Tree National was a place of bewilderment Thursday morning. A cold front brought an early morning thunderstorm along with a 180-degree shift in the wind to the north.
Little, however, seemed to bother Colin Montgomerie. The 51-year-old Scotsman fired a 6-under 65, seizing the early lead in the U.S. Senior Open.
“You’re always going to get breeze out here in Oklahoma. That’s part of the test,” Montgomerie said. “At the same time, I prefer the wind and the cool than the no wind and the heat.”
The heat showed up in force, along with strong southerly winds early Thursday afternoon. The opening round was a classic luck-of-the-draw scenario.
The half of the 156-player field that teed off in the morning were greeted with relatively light winds and a soft course. Their only issue was a 77-minute weather delay.
Most of the players had not hit the course before the delay. It didn’t affect their routines much. They were expecting worse.
“It was so dark out there that it was eerie in many ways. It was like Armageddon, you know. It was weird,” Montgomerie said. “So the siren was expected. I was surprised at the length of the delay. It was only an hour, really.”
Montgomerie wasn’t alone in taking advantage of the soft conditions. Marco Dawson was only one shot off the pace at 5 under.
Their routes to Oak Tree National couldn’t differ more.
Montgomerie spent two decades as one of golf’s biggest names. He dominated the European PGA Tour throughout the 1990s, winning 31 times internationally, and amassing a Ryder Cup record of 20-9-7.
But he never won on American soil until claiming the Senior PGA Championship two months ago.
Still the name recognition he’s brought to the Senior PGA Tour and this week’s event is noticeable. His group, along with Rocco Mediate and Tom Lehman, was one of the most watched of the day.
They witnessed a ball-striking exhibition from Montgomery. His round included eight birdies against two bogeys. Twice he put together runs of three straight birdies.
Montgomerie’s round began on the 10th hole. He sank birdie putts at Nos. 14 and 15 and chipped in for another at No. 16 to get to 3 under. A similar run on Nos. 6, 7 and 8 put him at 6 under.
Dawson was two groups ahead of Montgomerie and playing in near anonymity.
Dawson spent 21 years on the PGA Tour, but only amassed 18 top-10 finishes in his career.
Even getting a spot in the U.S. Senior Open was a chore. He earned an alternate spot in sectional qualifying, but didn’t get a spot in the 156-player field until last week.
But Montgomerie and Dawson shared a common trait on Thursday. They both hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens.
“You’re always going to be on the offensive when you’re driving the ball in the fairway,” Dawson said. “If you’re in the rough all the time you’re always playing defense. So, it really helps to drive the ball well.”
That was getting harder to do at the day went on.
Bernhard Langer, the two-time Masters champion, and Kirk Triplett both wrapped up the penning round at 2 under and are four shots off Montgomerie’s pace.
The leaderboard could look dramatically different when they return to the course today. Montgomerie doesn’t expect to still be on top when he returns to the first tee box at 1:52 p.m. today.
“The guys that are going out now will play now and then tomorrow morning, so I don’t expect to have the lead when I tee off tomorrow afternoon,” Montgomerie said. “So it’s a matter of being patient and trying to play somewhere near the way I did today. It will be difficult. I’m not denying that. It will be a struggle. It’s going to be 100 degrees the next three days, and it’s going to be difficult, no denying. But at the same time the rewards are great enough to warrant that. So I look forward to it.”
Of course, that was before the typical southerly wind gained steam and temperatures in the high 90s began to dry out the course. By Thursday afternoon, Oak Tree National was showing its teeth.
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