Sauers soars to the summit in British Seniors Open but Philip Walton’s 70 puts him right up there at Birkdale
American Gene Sauers leads the Senior Open after posting an opening-round three-under-par 67 at Southport’s Royal Birkdale yesterday.
The 50-year-old, who is making his first appearance at the tournament, ended up one shot clear of a group of four players, including Germany’s 2010 champion Bernhard Langer.
Former Ryder Cup player Philip Walton was only three off the lead, after a level par round of 70, the same as Mark McNulty, also representing Ireland.
Christy O’Connor Junior and Denis O’Sullivan both shot 75, one better than Des Smyth.
Nortern Ireland amateur Frank O’Donoghue went around in 83.
Sauers reached the turn in a bogey-free 34 and made his first birdie of the day at the par-four 10th.
He then bogeyed the following hole, but went on to finish well, making a hat-trick of gains in succession from the 15th.
“I’m very proud of that,” Sauers said.
“I just made sure I hit a lot of solid shots. If you hit it really solid then the wind won’t really mess with it too much and so I’m pleased with the way I played.
“It’s a great place and a privilege and honour to be here. I’ve not played an awful lot of links golf but I like the different challenge; you don’t know which way the ball is going to bounce so you’re kind of hitting and hoping sometimes, but I’m really enjoying it.”
Sauers only returned to golf less than two years ago after suffering from the potentially fatal skin condition Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.
“It’s a second chance,” he added. “Both arms, both legs were burned up. After Duke University diagnosed me, I spent seven weeks in hospital, had seven lots of skin grafts and it was torture.
“I tell you, I don’t want anybody to go through that. I’m blessed and I’m glad to be here.”
Alongside Langer on 68 are David Frost of South Africa, Australian Peter Senior and Frankie Minoza of the Philippines.
Sauers’ compatriot Fred Couples, the defending champion, struggled to a four-over-par 74.
Langer made 13 pars and bogeyed once up to and including the 14th, and then, like Sauers, concluded strongly with three birdies in his last four holes.
Reflecting on that round, the 55-year-old said: “How I finished was very pleasing because 18 (which he birdied) is not a simple hole.
“I wasn’t totally happy with my first seven or eight holes because I had a number of chances to make birdies and just didn’t putt well.
“But it was very tight. I played very well off the tee and into the greens and gave myself opportunities, kept it out of these pot bunkers and out of the long grass.
“I had opportunities and finally the putter started working at the end.”