TOLEDO, Ohio – Olin Browne likes old stuff. That’s a perfect attitude for someone playing on the over-50 tour.
On a course he didn’t know but has come to love, Browne followed a record-tying 64 with a solid 69 on Friday to take a one-shot lead over a talent-laden leaderboard in the rain-delayed second round of the U.S. Senior Open.
“I really like this old style,” he said of venerable Inverness Club.
Mark O’Meara, who shot a 68, was one of a number of major championship winners lurking close to Browne. He was one stroke back.
“Eight-under after two rounds around this golf course is good,” O’Meara said. “I’ve got my work cut out for me because there’s a lot of good players on that leaderboard.”
Browne, who led by two strokes after matching the tournament’s low first-round score, had a double-bogey and a bogey but added five birdies– including 3s on the two closing par 4s. He was at 9-under 133 at Inverness, which has hosted four U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships, a U.S. Amateur and the 2003 U.S. Senior Open.
Inverness, famous as the first club to officially welcome pros to compete at a U.S. Open in 1920, is growing on Browne.
“I hadn’t played here before,” he said after completing his second round under cloudy skies. “I wasn’t here for the PGAs and I wasn’t 50 in ’03. It’s just a really cool layout. I love the way the holes are framed. I love how the greens are set up.”
No wonder he likes it so much: He’s been tearing it up.
Then again, he played a course softened by 4 inches of rain in the last week. The forecast calls for high heat and humidity the next two days, which could turn greens that have been balky into glass.
O’Meara, winner of the 1998 Masters and British Open, escaped a couple of shots that were offline to remain on Browne’s heels. He made a slight change in his swing on Tuesday after flying home from the Senior British Open the previous day.
“I’ve got to be committed to go ahead and make sure I’m aggressive through the ball,” he said, as if reminding himself. “Today when I did it right, I hit a lot of quality shots. But there were a couple of times I hit wayward ones.”
Mark Calcavecchia (67), Joey Sindelar (66) and Michael Allen (69) were at 135. Peter Senior (67) was three shots behind Browne, with Corey Pavin(69), Trevor Dodds (69) and Kiyoshi Murota (69) at 137.
There’s no real secret to winning a major, said Calcavecchia, who won the 1989 British Open.
“You can’t make big, big numbers on the weekend,” said Calcavecchia, in his second full year on the Champions Tour. “It’s not like it’s rocket science or noon news. Doubles or triple (bogeys) are never good, no matter what day you make them. But especially on the weekend of a major.”
He set the stage for the final two rounds by playing bogey-free with four birdies.
A 2-hour, 45-minute rain delay in the morning prevented the last seven threesomes from finishing the second round. Play was suspended by darkness, with those left on the course to return early Saturday morning.
Among the other household names within six shots of the lead were John Huston, Larry Nelson, Jeff Sluman,Jay Haas, Nick Price, Steve Pate, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer and Russ Cochran, the winner of last week’s Senior British Open.
Browne said after the opening round that leading the tournament didn’t mean much with three rounds left. Then he went out and played well enough to hold onto the top spot.
He was level par through his first 16 holes, but then hit a 6-iron from 185 yards to 5 feet at 17 for birdie. At the final hole, he hit a big drive which left him only 86 yards to the green. His wedge came to rest 6 feet from the hole before he hit another short putt.
The 52-year-old, who lives in Florida, hasn’t won a tournament since the 2005 Deutsche Bank Championship. His other PGA Tour victories came at the 1998 Travelers and 1999 Colonial.
He is winless in 50 starts on the senior circuit, although he started this year with five top-10s finishes.
But he feels like he has an ally in Inverness.
Allen and Sindelar, among the last players to conclude the second round before darkness fell, took different routes to the same 36-hole score. Allen pulled even at 9 under with Browne only to bogey two of the final three holes. Sindelar, who played his collegiate golf at Ohio State, birdied the last two holes in a 66 that matched the low round of the day.
“In the middle of that back nine, you hang, you hang, and you try to get to a place where you get close enough to have something happen,” Sindelar said.
The top of the leaderboard is packed with players who have captured major championships before turning 50: Pavin (1995 U.S. Open), Jones (1996 U.S. Open), Nelson (1981 and `83 PGA Championships, ’83 U.S. Open), Sluman (1988 PGA), Price (1992 and `94 PGA, ’94 British Open), Langer (1985 and ’93 Masters) and Kite (1992 U.S. Open).
Price, six shots back after a 69, isn’t conceding anything.
“I’m looking forward to the weekend now,” he said. “That is the best I’ve played out of the last five rounds. I’m going to have to shoot low on the weekend, but if I hit the ball like I did today I’ve got a chance.”
So do a lot of others.