Bernhard Langer will tell anyone that age is just a number. The birth certificate might say he’s 65, but the German doesn’t look or play like someone headed for a comfortable retirement recliner.
Certainly not after the World Golf Hall of Famer carded a 3-under 68 on Friday at SentryWorld to take a one-shot lead over first-round leader Rod Pampling, of Australia, into the weekend of the 43rd U.S. Senior Open Championship. Langer, who opened with a 71, sits at 139 through 36 holes.
One of the fittest players on the 50-and-over circuit, Langer, who turns 66 in 57 days, put himself in position to become the oldest champion – by eight years – in U.S. Senior Open history. Allen Doyle was 57 years, 11 months, 14 days when he successfully defended his title in 2006. Langer, who won this title in 2010, would also surpass five-time USGA champion Hale Irwin (3 U.S. Opens, 2 U.S. Senior Opens) as the winningest golfer on the PGA Tour Champions with 46 titles.
But to achieve the feat, the two-time Masters champion will have to navigate two more challenging days on the par-71 Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that has punished players with thick rough and undulating greens rolling at 13 feet on the Stimpmeter. While the scoring average on Friday (76.54) was slightly lower than Thursday’s opening round (77.34), only five players are in red figures through 36 holes.
“Today was a little bit better,” said Langer. “Played pretty solid, and believe it or not, I had two three-putts and a hit a sand wedge from the middle of the fairway into the water hazard [on No. 11], which is painful when you think about that from 100 yards, but that's golf.
“The course is tough, but it's fair, and it's a great setup. I'm fortunate to be playing well and look forward to the weekend.”
It’s shaping up to be quite a final two days in central Wisconsin. Right in the mix are a pair of two-time U.S. Open champions, Retief Goosen (141) and Ernie Els (142), along with two Wisconsin natives, 2019 Senior Open champion Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly. Stricker, bidding for a third consecutive senior major and fifth victory of 2023, followed up a 72 with a 70 to get within three of the lead. Kelly, twice a runner-up in this championship, fired a 70 for a two-day total of 141. The two Madison residents will be paired together on Saturday.
Two late bogeys – the cost of hitting tee shots into the gnarly rough – on Nos. 6 and 9 moved the 56-year-old Stricker out of red figures for the championship.
“I'm in a good spot,” said Stricker, who owns four wins and four seconds in 11 PGA Tour Champions starts this year. “It looks like three back for sure. Like I said, there's some tough pins out there today. The wind is up and down. The course has got a lot of teeth to it. Again, I feel okay where I'm at.”
Kelly, battling a nagging left wrist injury, still managed a solid round of three birdies against two bogeys. He planned to ice his wrist Friday night to keep the swelling down along with taking Ibuprofen for the pain.
“It helps having people out giving you that energy,” said Kelly of the fan support. “I hear a lot of great things after I missed [my par putt on No. 7] and going to the next hole. I didn't reward them with a good shot off the tee, but I hit a pretty darn good second one. Yeah, I was happy to go par, par after that drive on 8.”
Pampling, who owns one PGA Tour Champions win (2021 Boeing Classic) to go with three PGA Tour victories, had a U.S. Open-like round on Friday with 15 pars, a birdie and two bogeys, one of which was a three-putt on the par-5 14th hole.
Dicky Pride, who like Pampling owns one PGA Tour Champions win (2021 Mitsubishi Electric Classic), will enter the weekend two strokes off the lead. His 69 on Friday was one of nine sub-par rounds. In Thursday’s first round, only four players bettered par.
Lurking four strokes back at 1-over-par 143 is popular Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez and Y.E. Yang, who famously outdueled Tiger Woods at Hazeltine National Golf Club to win the 2009 PGA Championship. Yang carded a 70 on Friday.
Round 3 is scheduled to begin at 7:45 a.m. CDT with players going off in twosomes. The final pairing of Bernhard Langer and Rod Pampling is scheduled to tee off at 12:49 p.m. Peacock will stream from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT with NBC picking up the coverage from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“Obviously, there's the rough, but there's a lot of water in play. Then you have the greens that are quite severe at times too. Four or five of them are really firm. And the undulation. They hide the pins behind knobs and behind bunkers. That's the U.S. Open … well, every week really. It's vital to come from the fairway and control your distance and control your spin, and the rough is just extremely tough to play out of.” – Bernhard Langer when asked about why low scores are tough at SentryWorld
“I hadn't been sort of in a situation like this in a major for a while. I've had a lot of good events, but not the lead. To handle the situation, I think I played pretty solid out there.” – Rod Pampling
“A lot of times I'll take par, but I'll take the birdies if you'll give them to me.” – Dicky Pride on the tough challenge
“It's just about patience, too, and we're only halfway through and a lot can still happen. If you play well, if you get it in the fairway, you can definitely shoot a good [score], you know, I'm saying a 4-, 5-under round, so [that] would be a helluva round.” – Steve Stricker
“That would be incredible. I mean, yeah, that's a fairytale week even for us. I mean, it's pretty cool. I'm all for that. We really enjoy playing with each other. It will just make it that much cooler.” – Jerry Kelly on playing with Stricker in Saturday’s third round
“Today could have been low, man. I had a lot of chances. Yesterday I was a bit off my long game, but I was on today. I don't know if it's the smoke [from the Canadian wildfires]. I wear contact lenses, and I just couldn't get any of the lines properly.” – Ernie Els after hitting 10 of 18 greens in shooting a 71
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.