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The Journal Gazette

Friday, June 29, 2018 1:00 am

Smoltz is no ace at Senior Open

Local golfer struggles, but bests baseball star

Staff, news services

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Though John Smoltz may have felt very much alone on the wind-whipped, sun-baked Broadmoor course, he wasn't.

The pitching Hall of Famer spent Day 1 at the U.S. Senior Open in much the same position as the rest of the field – gouging out of ankle-high rough, then scrambling to put himself in position for par putts on tricky, mountain greens that left player after player shaking his head.

“I'm just being honest,” Smoltz said after a round of 15-over 85 that left him tied for 150th place. “I don't have enough game for this course yet.”

He wasn't alone. The ultimate test for the seniors produced only eight below-par scores Thursday, and not a single player – not even leader Jerry Kelly – finished 18 holes without a bogey on his card.

After saving par from the rough on the 559-yard, par-4 17th – he was holding his right elbow after digging out the approach – Kelly was one 4-foot putt away from going bogey-free. But when that slid a fraction to the right at the cup, his flawless day was history.

Kelly still shot 4-under 66, which was good enough for a two-shot lead over Miguel Angel Jimenez, Kevin Sutherland, Deane Pappas and Rocco Mediate.

“I was pretty disappointed with that three-putt on the last hole,” Kelly said. “But it gave me a lot today. I played very well, but it gave me some shots, too.”

Fort Wayne's Scott Pieri, who made the tournament after shooting a 1-under 69 in a qualifier at Notre Dame's Warren Course, shot a 9-over 79 in his first round. 

The 50-year-old Pieri is playing in his first U.S. Senior Open and struggled through the front side, bogeying seven of his first nine holes to shoot 43 before the turn.

He steadied himself on the back, parring eight of the nine holes and shooting 2-over 36. 

The former Northrop and Ball State golfer, who was a tour and club pro from 1991-2006, is tied for 112th place out of 155 players and is 13 shots out of the lead. 

Mediate found himself in the mix again for a national championship 10 years after his epic, 19-hole playoff loss to Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Whether it's the regular Open or the seniors, Mediate insists the tough USGA setups suit him, even though he missed the cut the last two years in this event.

“It looks like a U.S. Open golf course,” Mediate said about the Broadmoor. “It is a U.S. Open golf course. It will show you quickly that it is, if you hit it in the wrong place. That's what I love most about the setup.”

Also lurking was defending champion Kenny Perry, whose 71 included only a single birdie.

“Here, the greens, they've got you on edge,” said Perry, whose title last year gave him entry into the U.S. Open earlier this month. “I feel like I'm at Shinnecock again.”

The USGA took its usual drubbing for the course setup earlier this month at Shinnecock Hills, and though the spotlight isn't nearly as bright here, the record-high forecast for this week (high 90s) along with wind gusting above 30 mph have left tournament organizers 'pacing” themselves when it comes to firming up the Broadmoor, according to the USGA's daily course setup notes.

Even when softened up for resort players, conquering this course takes its fair share of local knowledge. Virtually every putt – even those that appear to be aimed uphill – break away from the Will Rogers Shrine towering above the course on Cheyenne Mountain.

“You have to hit them a few times to trust you know what you're doing,” said Lee Janzen, who shot 69.