8/10 • 3 - 6 PM
The 42nd U.S. Senior Open Championship is the record third for the Old Course at Saucon Valley Country Club, and with good reason. The course has drawn praise, and even a bit of shock from senior circuit rookie Padraig Harrington of the Republic of Ireland, who was rather pleased to encounter the conditions that make this the toughest test for players 50 and older.
“It’s a good setup,” the three-time major champion said on Tuesday. “Heavy rough and very fast, undulating greens. It’s very traditional, which you expect of the USGA. It’s exactly on point.”
The result being that no one is running away with this championship through 36 holes, with a scoring average that was more than 75.5 through two days on the classic Herbert Strong design. With the rain that dogged Thursday morning’s play no longer a factor, the test should only intensify over the weekend.
Here are 3 Things to Know about Rounds 3 and 4:
In 2019, Steve Stricker made his U.S. Senior Open debut, and it became an emphatic statement as the affable veteran from the Badger State shattered the scoring record with rounds of 62-64-66-69 on The Warren Course at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., to claim his first USGA title by six strokes. Stricker logged 13 top-25 finishes in his 22 starts in the U.S. Open, including four top-10s, and he noted after he bagged the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy, “There’s been a lot of years trying to get one of these.”
He is back again, alone in second place, one stroke behind Harrington after 36 holes, and though it isn’t technically a title defense, he has a chance to go 2-for-2 in Senior Open starts. Stricker skipped the 2021 championship at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club in favor of the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic, where he is a three-time winner.
“We’ve still got a long ways to go,” cautioned Stricker. “We’re halfway home, with a jammed-up leader board. It’s going to take some great golf this weekend to come out on top.”
Stricker has proven eminently capable of such golf, including a six-stroke victory over Harrington last month in the Regions Tradition for his fourth senior major and eighth senior title overall.
How often do you hear golfers say the ball doesn’t know their age? At 68 years young, Jay Haas is bidding to surpass Allen Doyle as the oldest U.S. Senior Open champion – by 10½ years. Doyle was 57 years, 11 months when he claimed the second of his back-to-back titles in 2006 at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan.
After becoming the fifth player in championship history to shoot his age on Thursday, Haas followed up his first-round 67 with a 1-over 72. He’s currently tied for fourth, three strokes behind midway leader Harrington.
A year ago at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club, Haas was in a similar position through 36 holes with rounds of 69-71, only to fade to a tie for 40th on the weekend.
“If I can drive the ball like I did [on Friday], that's a definite plus,” said Haas, who is competing in his 50th USGA championship and was the second-oldest player in the starting field. “I'm certainly not one of the longest hitters, but I'm not so short that I'm taking the brunt of it.”
After trading starts on the first and 10th holes in Rounds 1 and 2, everyone will be put to an immediate test by the front nine of Saucon Valley’s Old Course this weekend. The par-36 outward nine is playing about two-thirds of a stroke more over par than the par-35 inward nine, and the toughest stretch of the round begins with the hardest hole statistically in No. 2, a 472-yard, slight dogleg-right par 4 that is playing more than a half-stroke over par (4.51). The hole, with its steeply pitched, elevated green, also played as the toughest hole in both previous Senior Opens here, as well as the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open.
The 374-yard, par-4 third hole may seem like a breather based on yardage, but it has produced by far the most double bogeys (31) of any hole. The approach shot on the dogleg-left hole plays over Saucon Creek to a two-tiered green, unless the player finds the rough, in which case they may be forced to lay up. No. 3 is the second-toughest hole, playing to just under a 4.5 stroke average.
The front-nine gauntlet continues on Nos. 5 and 7, par 4s measuring 476 and 456 yards, which rank as the fifth- and fourth-toughest holes, respectively. One key to getting through this wringer may be whether players are able to take advantage of No. 1, a 555-yard par 5 that is playing as the easiest hole for the week. Make a birdie while you can.