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A shot away from that elusive number, Michael Allen settles for a record-tying 60

By Bill Fields

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Nobody said anything, but everybody knew.

As Michael Allen played his second nine at the Allianz Championship Friday afternoon, he was flirting with something special.  

Although eight golfers had shot 60 on the Champions Tour -- the first being Isao Aoki at the 1997 Emerald Coast Classic -- no one had gotten to golf's magic number, 59, which had been posted multiple times on the PGA and tours and once, by Annika Sorenstam, on the LPGA.

In the first round on the Old Course at Broken Sound, on a calm, warm day kind to scoring, Allen birdied his 14th hole to go 10 under. If he could play the last four holes in three under, he would join the elite 59 club. (He wasn't aware no one had done it on the Champions Tour.)

The others in Allen's grouping, Tom Kite and Anders Forsbrand, went about there business.

"It's kind of like that perfect game in baseball," Allen said. "You don't talk about it. You kind of let the guy go sit in the corner."

He faced a 12-footer for birdie on the par-5 sixth, his 15th hole. He had watched Kite putt from a similar line. He knew the break. He knew the situation.

"I really kind of thought I had a chance to shoot 59 if I made that," Allen said. "First time that had ever entered my mind. I really knew the line. One of those ones you wish you had back. The pressure was off after I missed the putt on six. Just like my career, almost."

Still, what a day it was for the 55-year-old who has five Champions Tour victories. Allen birdied his 16th and 18th holes, the latter with a seven-foot putt, to join Aoki and the other seniors -- Walter Morgan, Bruce Fleisher, Jim Thorpe, Nick Price, Tom Purtzer, Craig Stadler and Jay Haas -- who have shot 60. Allen's is the first 12 under of the bunch.

Allen hit 11 fairways and 14 greens, and required only 22 putts. And when things are going well, they're going well.

Related: More from Bill Fields

On his 13th hole, Allen badly chunked a wedge approach from 85 yards. He skulled his 30-foot chip from in front of the green but it hopped into the hole for an unlikely birdie. "That's kind of where you know things are going pretty well for you," said Allen, whose 60 gave him a three-shot lead over Scott Dunlap, with Tom Lehman, Wes Short Jr. and Chien Soon Lu five behind.

"When you play a great round like this, it's easy -- it's not that hard," Allen said. "You're playing good shots and you're making putts. Shooting 70 or 72 when you're not playing well can be a struggle. Hopefully tomorrow I can have some of this feel."

Thriving in contention under pressure hasn't always been the easiest of positions for Allen, who won once on the European Tour but never on the PGA Tour. "I haven't led that many times," he said. "Out here [on the Champions Tour] I've been better. I've not been as bad. Out here, it's a great challenge, it's a lot of fun. Out there, I was scared if I was leading."

Related: Best Champions Tour players

In the final round of the 1993 Nestle Invitational at Bay Hill, he was T-8 and grouped with Tom Watson after 54 holes. Watson, his career full of cups and cash at that point, got a deservedly windy introduction on the first tee. "I literally took a seat," Allen said. "And then they [say], 'This is Mike, he's from Arizona.' That's not really a great feeling. You kind of know who you're with. That day didn't work out great for me." (He shot 75 to finish T-25.)

Allen knows the competitive window is closing for him. Hale Irwin being the biggest exception to the rule, most seniors don't make much of a mark in their late-50s and beyond. Because he uses a long putter with an anchored stroke, which will be illegal come 2016, Allen knows the confluence of the ban with the clock won't make things any easier.

"I realize I have a couple of good years left," Allen said. "No. 1, the [not being able to anchor the] putter is going to hurt me. Right now, I don't think I'm necessarily a much better putter with the long putter than the short putter, but coming down the stretch when it matters, I may not make 'em all, but I don't hit bad putts just 'cause  I'm all nervous. That will happen more with the short putter. And I'll be 57, 58. It's pretty much proven your time is short out here. I want to make it while I can."

For a day, Mike from Arizona was the toast of Florida, that much was certain.

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The freewheeling Couples is hungry for his first win of the season

SAN FRANCISCO -- Fred Couples earned eight victories in his first three years on the Champions Tour, at least two a season. He has been shut out during 2013, but that could soon change. 

With his second consecutive 65 at TPC Harding Park, Couples is 12 under and leading Peter Senior by two strokes through 36 holes at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. (Bernhard Langer, who must win the tournament and have Kenny Perry finish out of the top five to overtake Perry in the season-long Schwab Cup points competition, is five strokes behind in fourth place after a 68. Perry is T-11.)

"It's my last chance, it's a big event," Couples said. "The top 30 players [are here] and I want to win, there's no doubt. I certainly am not playing better this week because I want to win. I wanted to win at Birmingham and Seattle and Chicago and Newport and everywhere else I finished second."

Couples -- who has been a runner-up four times in 2013 -- has piled up 15 birdies over two days, including six in a bogey-free round Friday on a glorious fall afternoon. He is making it look easy as he can do, his power allowing short approaches and his putter (only 53 putts through two rounds) capitalizing on them. He two-putted for a birdie on the 525-yard, par-5 ninth hole after a 4-iron second shot and hit a wedge into the 480-yard, par-4 12th hole. 

The contrast in styles between the long-hitting Couples (leading the field in driving distance through two rounds with a 307.5-yard average) and the less powerful Senior (272.8 yards, 13th in the 30-man field) should make for an interesting third-round grouping.

"We enjoy playing together," said Senior, who is looking for his first Champions Tour victory. "I think Freddie enjoys it more because he gets me about 70 yards off the tee. But he's a great guy and we get on pretty well together."

Like Corey Pavin, another control player, Senior has never known anything different.

"Corey Pavin and I talk about this a lot," Senior said. "He even said that he was getting out-hit by a girl 50 yards last week, so we sort of had a giggle about that. But something we've always done, we've put a score on the board. I've never been afraid of guys who hit it past me. If you put a score on the board, you're going to do pretty well."

Besides his length, Couples feels at home at Harding Park, a public (if now upscale) layout like Jefferson Park, the Seattle muny where he got his start in the game. 

"The similarity is there's trees down the right and left, they gobble up balls and the greens are really small," Couples said. "Most courses in Seattle, the greens are teeny. I don't know, it's just nice. The cypress trees are spectacular."

Through 36 holes, the same could be said of his golf.

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Kenny Perry looks to cash in on "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity

By Bill Fields

SAN FRANCISCO -- For Kenny Perry, who sometimes drag races in his spare time, the cliche is apt.
Going into Thursday's first round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at TPC Harding Park, the 53-year-old Kentuckian is in the driver's seat as far as the season-long Schwab Cup points race is concerned.
Thanks in part to his playoff victory Sunday over Bernhard Langer at the AT&T Championship, Perry has a 612-point lead over Langer in the competition for which the winner earns a $1 million annuity. (The runner-up gets $500,000.)

To surpass Perry -- the two are the only players in the 30-man field with a chance -- Langer must win at Harding Park in concert with Perry finishing no better than a  five-way tie for fourth place or a two-way tie for fifth.
Langer knows the math.
"Second's not going to do it for me," he said. "The key is, I have to win and then we'll have to see how he plays."
So does Perry.
"My job's not even over," said Perry, who arrived at Harding Park Monday to be informed Langer -- known for his meticulous preparation -- was hard at work.
"I flew in here yesterday afternoon. I'm at my locker and the locker attendant says, 'Bernhard got here, he's already teed off Monday morning,' " Perry said. "I'm like, 'Can't that guy just take a vacation, just relax a little?' So he's very motivated, I'm very motivated. It's a great competition. When you've got two guys trying to receive the ultimate prize out here and it's within each's grasp, it's very compelling and fun to watch."

Perry's AT&T triumph was his third victory of the year, one more than Langer and six others (Michael Allen, Russ Cochran, David Frost, Rocco Mediate, Esteban Toledo and Mark Wiebe). His previous two wins, at the Constellation Senior Players and the U.S. Senior Open in back-to-back majors were dominating performances on the heels of a disappointing Sunday at the Senior PGA Championship.
Langer's consistently good form (a Champions Tour-leading 17 top 10s in 23 tournaments) has him in position to win his fifth Arnold Palmer Award as leading money winner. He leads Perry by about $106,000 arriving at Harding Park, where the winner receives $440,000. If not for a couple of final-round letdowns, the Schwab scenario could easily be flipped heading into the last event of 2013.
"I always analyze what I could better, try to learn from my mistakes, but I don't live there," Langer said. "I don't ponder for months and years what could have been, should have been. That's not what the bible tells us, that's not where I want to be and that's not what a sport psychologist would tell you either. You learn from the past and move forward. There were some events where I didn't play my best or missed a putt or I hit a bad shot. And there were other events where somebody finished with four birdies or just played better than me."
Arguably no one has played better this season on the senior tour than Perry in his consecutive major triumphs, during which he shot three 63s and two 64s. But the driver he used so effectively in those victories was broken (head and shaft) during a flight from New York to Seattle and he hasn't found one yet that he hits as far. Perry also has nagging hip, knee and foot pain that has caused him to ride a cart in recent weeks. Carts aren't allowed this week, and Perry will have to walk five rounds (including Wednesday's pro-am). He has lost about 20 pounds. 

"I was 240 [pounds], now I'm like 218, so that's helped alleviate some pressure off my feet and knees," Perry said. "I think I'm OK. We'll see."

Harding Park, which hosted the season-ender in 2010 and 2011 before the tournament shifted to Arizona's Desert Mountain Club last year, should be a stout test. The ball doesn't go as far in the cool, Bay Area air, and the rough is penalizing. "Very punishing rough, so you have to keep it in the short grass," Langer said. "The setup is pretty punishing. The greens will be firm and fast.  It's set up like a real major. You're not going to have somebody play mediocre golf and win this championship."
Punishing or not, Langer knows he can't afford to be tentative.
"I think I'm going to have to be fairly aggressive from the get-go," he said. "You don't win tournaments being cautious. You can't. There's always somebody that's going to play well and putt well."

It will be no surprise if either Langer or Perry is that somebody this week.
"My putter woke up last week," Perry said. "I putted beautifully and I was able to win. Hopefully it will carry over into this week and keep the good ball-striking going and keep my thoughts in check and hopefully make this thing happen. This might be a once-in-a-lifetime deal for me. I might never get in this position again, and I need to try to take advantage of it while it's here."

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Nick Faldo withdraws from Champions Tour event with elbow injury

By Jim Moriarty

After a good experience in the British Open at Muirfield in July, six-time major champion Nick Faldo decided to come out of the CBS television booth long enough to play a smattering of Champions Tour events. His best laid plans came undone at the SAS Championship when he had to withdraw after hitting his tee shot on the 13th hole at Prestonwood CC in Cary, NC, with an elbow injury.

Related: 10 golfers we'd love to see in the broadcast booth

Playing in last year's PNC Father/Son Challenge, Faldo got a pretty good idea of all the broken bits and pieces. "That's when I discovered all my injuries, tears in my shoulder and all sorts of things," said Faldo. "I had a really good rehab but I've got a tear in my capsule in my left elbow."


After making a simple forward gesture with his putter on the sixth green, Faldo felt the elbow flare up. He tried to play but couldn't continue after losing tee shots straight left on the 10th and 13th holes.

"I really wanted to play. I was really looking forward to it, gearing up to do this. But this is a bad one," said Faldo. "I can't hit the darn thing. You don't know whether you're going to flinch and hit it left or right. Tournament golf asks a little bit more, doesn't it?"

The only thing Faldo will be able to do is rest the injury and, "be sensible," he said. "So, we'll see how sensible I am."

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News & Tours

Scott Langley a First Tee success story

By Tim Rosaforte

From the September 30 edition of Golf World Monday:

Scott Langley returned to Pebble Beach last week to offer testimony on what The First Tee can do for a life -- and a career.

Langley was a 2012 PGA Tour rookie who won the pro-junior event at the Champions Tour's Nature Valley First Tee Open in 2006. He also tied for low amateur honors in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and to show how far he has come in the past seven years, Langley was invited to play with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and Jay Haas at Cypress Point last Thursday, the day he was also scheduled to address The First Tee and Champions Tour participants at a Legends and Leaders dinner.

Related: Golf Digest's golfers who give back

Coming to the 18th hole, Langley was told by Sam Reeves, their host, that if he holed his second shot, it would mean tying the course record 63 held by, among others, Ben Hogan. From 125 yards out, Langley hit the flagstick with his shot and made a 2¿-footer for the 64.


That night Langley looked out over the audience at The Beach Club, and said to the young men and women sitting nervously in their chairs, "I know how you feel. Seven years ago, I was sitting where you are."

Langley made an impression on the audience not only for the way his career panned out, but also for the way he embodies The First Tee's core values. He grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, a blue-collar golfer who hit scarred range balls off mats until a First Tee chapter was established.

"I wouldn't say I came from a poor background," Langley said. "But I didn't have a silver spoon in my mouth. I didn't have a chip on my shoulder, but I knew I had to work hard at everything I was going to get."

Among the 81 First Tee participants listening intently to Langley was Brittany Ferrante, a 5-foot-2, 100-pound, 16-year-old high school senior who plays No. 1 on the Walt Whitman High boys' team in Huntington Station on New York's Long Island.

Brittany didn't have a stable life at home the way Langley did. Her parents had issues. As part of her essay, she wrote about her mother attempting suicide. Constantly in between jobs as a civil engineer, her father went on the Internet and found a First Tee chapter near their home at Eisenhower Park.

"I have no idea where we would be [without the First Tee], but we wouldn't be in a good spot," Ferrante said, acknowledging her brother, Dominick, who made the trip as her caddie.

Related: Photos of Pebble Beach

She played alongside Rocco Mediate and although she did not make the cut, it was still the experience of a young lifetime. Golf Channel featured Brittany, even using her silhouette against the beach in the closing credits Friday. Billy Ray Brown made the comment on air, "Don't be fooled. She hits it miles."

Like Langley, Ferrante has aspirations of playing college golf, then pro golf. Plan B is to be an elementary school teacher or open a golf academy. She heads back to New York this morning with dreams of returning to Pebble Beach, maybe as head of a First Tee chapter.

"It wasn't what I expected," she said. "It was more."

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News & Tours

Steve Elkington apologizes for offensive tweets, starts third round with police escort

By Derek Evers

steve-elkington-racist-tweets.jpgSteve Elkington raised some eyebrows when he sent out a series of offensive tweets on Friday evening and again on Saturday morning.

"Things about Southport ... fat tattooed guy, fat tattooed girl, trash, Pakistani robber guy, s**t food," Elkington tweeted late Friday, before chiming back in on his own thread to poorly explain his frustration. "Couple caddies got rolled by some Pakkis, bad night for them." 

After the controversial tweets, the winner of the 1995 PGA Championship actually began his third round with a police officer in his group for the first few holes. Elkington issued a statement to the media at 2:15 pm, or roughly 20 minutes after he teed off, sounding like a man who realizes he may face disciplinary action from both the Champions Tour and European Tour.

"I am prepared to adhere to any disciplinary action that the Championship sees fit," the statement read. "In my tweet I was referring to an unfortunate incident involving a caddie earlier in the week. Being Australian, I was unaware that my use of language in relation to the Pakistani people would cause offense, but having been made aware I now deeply regret the use of that terminology.

Related: Golf's most regrettable interviews

"Southport is a beautiful place and I have enjoyed playing at Royal Birkdale, as my positive content on Twitter has shown. My comments were born out of frustration over what had happened to a colleague."

Elkington finished his round with one-over 71 and headed straight to his car after signing his scorecard. He is currently tied for 11th place heading into tomorrow's final round.

The European Tour issued a statement to say that it had spoken to Elkington about his "inappropriate and regrettable comments" and said the matter will be reviewed before the Championship considers disciplinary action. "Steve has expressed his regret at his comments and wishes to apologize to the Championship and the people of Southport for any offense caused."

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News & Tours

Cheat Sheet: What you need to know for Saturday in golf

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

Mahan hunting down the Canadian Open
At the British Open last week, Hunter Mahan shot 68 in the third round and played his way into the final group at Muirfield. This week, he shot an eight-under 64 in the second round, which included six birdies in seven holes.

It's still early, so who knows if he's going to win, but one thing is for sure: Mahan's consistency this season has been pretty breathtaking. In 19 events he's made 16 cuts, finished in the top 25 12 times, and has been in the final group after 54-holes in two consecutive majors. He's still looking for his first win of the season, but if he continues doing what he's doing, he won't be waiting for much longer.

Ball-strikers vs. scramblers at the Senior British Open
There's a mighty brawl unfolding at the Senior British Open this week. Among those in the top 5 after 36-holes is Bernhard Langer, who's averaging 14 greens each round of this tournament, and Gene Sauers, who's averaging 15. They're joined by David Frost, Mark Wiebe and Mark McNulty who are averaging 10, 10.5 and 11 greens respectively. That may sound like a lot, but it's not by tour standards, so what we're about to witness at Royal Birkdale is a case study of scramblers vs. ball-strikers under major championship conditions. Buckle your seat belts.  

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Working on his game never gets old for Pavin

By Bill Fields

130713-corey-pavin.jpgOMAHA, Neb. -- Golfers get old. The search for the secret never does.

After signing his scorecard after the third round of the U.S. Senior Open at Omaha CC, where he shot a three-under 67, David Frost stood outside the clubhouse, swinging an imaginary club while watching his reflection in a window behind him.

A swing. Another. A pause.

He went to his bag. With driver in hand, he did a slow-motion takeaway, checking his positions. He did it again. Once more. Now, he could eat lunch.

Frost is 53 years old. How many times do you think he has self-diagnosed his swing in a window or a mirror or a shiny car door?

Minutes earlier Corey Pavin had stood 50 feet away, on a riser with a microphone next to a country club pool that looked very inviting on a hot afternoon. He talked about his third-round 64 that had put him very much in contention at four-under 206 after 54 holes.

Related: Excitement high in Omaha for U.S. Senior Open

Following a disappointing 73 in the second round, Pavin had gone to the range. He found something.

"It was a very different day from yesterday. I really struggled yesterday," Pavin said. "I went out on the range and worked on it. Found a little key to help me with my swing."

What he worked on wasn't much different from what he has worked on during a lifetime in golf.

We learn. We forget. We learn something else. Or the same-old, a different way. Even the best.

"I've been working on trying to get the club more inside [on the backswing]," Pavin said. "I've been doing that for 40 years and I'm still working on it. I was getting a little bit outside. I wasn't turning as well as I should have.

"So I was just basically trying to make my initial move a little bit more inside with the clubhead. There's different ways for me to do it, and I always try different types of ideas. Yesterday was a little bit different type of one, and it seemed to work today."

Decades ago, before Pavin was even born, Gary Player was concerned his swing was too flat. He had a chance to talk to Ben Hogan. "You can't be too flat," the legend told the future legend. The young South African believed the experienced American.

Related: Tom Watson keeps grinding

Player is one of only seven golfers to have won a U.S. Open and a U.S. Senior Open, the others being Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Orville Moody, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin.

Pavin, who won the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in 1995, has himself in position to become the eighth in some fast company. He had no bogeys and six birdies Saturday, including one on the 477-yard eighth hole, where he hit driver, 3-wood to eight feet and sank the putt. "That was the first day I could reach it in two," he said, "so that was nice." Pavin has never overpowered a course, and never will, but has made a career making more out less.

"The thing that's hard about here on the Champions Tour is that most of the guys have won a lot of tournaments," Pavin said. "So you don't see a lot of backing up on Sunday, at least not in the regular tournaments. The competition is tough. We're all friends. We've known each other a long time. Once we all get out there on the golf course, we all know what we're trying to do, and that's to win."

Pavin will need another fine day in the final round to have a chance of catching Michael Allen. Kenny Perry, who also followed up a 73 with a 64, stands with Fred Funk between Pavin and the leader. The long-hitting Kentuckian credited a pre-round fix of his own for his fine play, a self-tip -- to stay more centered over the ball rather than overshifting on the backswing -- that keeps his patented draw from becoming a poisoning hook.

"Today, I tried to post up more on my left side, keep my head on the golf ball and eliminate the bigger hook," a pleased Perry said. "It still draws, but I don't pull hook. And I drove it beautifully. I was just on the range trying to find something to get me through the round after I hit it so poorly yesterday."

Tweak. Excel. Hope.

"Keep my fingers crossed and hopefully it will work tomorrow," Pavin said.

That's golf, even for the best.

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Tom Watson keeps grinding, as only he can

By Bill Fields

OMAHA -- Tom Watson's bright green shirt looked like Scotland 1977, but his legs felt like Nebraska 2013.

"These hills are getting my legs, I have to admit," he said. "The legs aren't firing, they're a little weak."


Walking the steep slopes of Omaha CC Thursday in the first round of the U.S. Senior Open clad in nearly the color he wore when he outdueled Jack Nicklaus in the final round at Turnberry in that epic British Open, Watson didn't need to be reminded he will turn 64 in less than two months.

Related: Why we should remember Johnny Goodman this week

He didn't strike his irons crisply, didn't make much happen with the putter. But if you think he was a hopeless, aging legend taking up space, think again. Watson shot an even-par 70, just three strokes behind the best scores (Jay Don Blake and Jeff Sluman) shot Thursday morning.

Watson remains struck by how much his astounding near-victory at Turnberry in the 2009 British Open when he was 59 meant to people of a certain age, when he told them possibility doesn't have to wrinkle. To watch him now is to still be inspired.

"He's grinding," Watson's caddie, Neil Oxman, had said along the eighth fairway as he waited for the five-time British Open champion to drive on the 469-yard par 4. "He always grinds."

Give your best on a shot. Get ready for the next one. Accept the good breaks and bad breaks in the same spirit. Repeat, until the round is done. Then do it again the next day.

That is what Watson has done on the job for 40 years. That is what keeps him doing his job today. That, and the rare tenacity of a champion.

For a putting stroke that has been sick off and on for a quarter of a century -- ugly-yippy even at times -- Watson's cure has been to keep on keeping on. A more forgiving putterhead design than that with which he ran the tables in the 1970s and early-1980s has been his only concession. He hasn't clawed, hasn't cross-handed, hasn't bellied or broomsticked.

Related: Tom Watson's key for more power

He was in a first-round grouping with Colin Montgomerie (oversize grip) and Bernhard Langer (long anchored putter). Watson, as ever, putted conventionally.

"You got it right. Stubborn. Exactly right," Watson said. "I just keep on trying to do what I used to know how to do. I try to remember and try to do the things I used to be able to do. And it's a struggle sometimes. With the putter particularly, it's been a struggle for a long time."

When Watson plays with a Champions Tour rookie like Montgomerie, who just turned 50, it's a mental post-it note of the clock to go with the putting nerves and the muscles aches.

"I start thinking about 13 years difference, yeah. The rookies out here now are quite a bit younger than I am," Watson said. "They've got the power . That's something I'm going to find I'm going to lose more and more of. Every now and then I can crack it out there. But the consistency is not there now. That's what I'm looking for is that consistency."

To the 50-year-old who was not enjoying Omaha CC's hills either, despite bettering Watson's score by a shot, it was still pretty impressive. "Amazing," Mongomerie said. "Fantastic effort. Good home support for him. I think he's quite close [to home]. I think Kansas is the next state down. Flatter, I believe, in Kansas. So we should have played there. Good golf for Tom. Sixteen pars for nearly 64 years old."

Watson will go from Nebraska to Scotland, for another British Open at Muirfield. "He has every chance to do well again, as he did at Turnberry in 2009," Montgomerie said.

"He's just being nice," said Watson, who had more immediate concerns.

Related: Tom Watson and other U.S. Ryder Cup captains remembered

He was off the practice range, a place he has known as intimately as any golfer ever has.

"I'll go the practice range and see," Watson said. "The swing's not very easy right now. I don't know whether I'm moving my head or not making a very good turn. I've got a couple of ideas. If they don't work, I'll go home, take a nap, I'll think about it, come back tomorrow, practice before I play, try something else and see if that works. That's the way I've always worked."

To his golf mind, it is closer to 1977 than 2013.

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Excitement high in Omaha as U.S. Senior Open comes to town

By Bill Fields

OMAHA -- When the Champions Tour is at its best, the formula is no different from special events on other tours: Good course plus good galleries equals a tournament that feels as if it matters.

That would describe the U.S. Senior Open at Omaha CC, a surprisingly hilly, interesting track in Nebraska's largest city, which is enthusiastically embracing the championship. 

Not since the 1999 U.S. Senior Open in Des Moines has the event been such the talk of the host town. Crowds won't approach the nearly 200,000 spectators that turned out in Iowa, but there will be a throng come Thursday's first round.

(photo by Getty Images)

"I don't think we'll get to the size of galleries in Des Moines, but I think this will be second best," said Tim Flaherty, U.S. Senior Open senior championship director. "[We're] expecting over 150,000 here for the week."

And early returns seem to support that prediction, with eight-thousand fans attending Monday's practice round.

"It's phenomenal," said 2010 U.S. Senior Open champion Bernhard Langer on Wednesday. "There's so many people out there. I haven't signed this many autographs since the Masters in April."

To sign a scorecard as the winner come Sunday evening, a player will not only have to had produced the repertoire of shots that an Open (even the elder version) requires. He will have to still be walking sprightly on a rolling piece of Middle America terrain that has surprised many with its elevation changes. 

Kenny Perry, coming off a win at the Constellation Senior Players Championship, felt the effects on his problematic left knee walking the course Tuesday. "I had a lot of problems just walking," Perry said Wednesday. "There's a lot of steep descents out there from the tee box down to the fairway. That really aggravated my left knee. I was feeling a lot of pressure, a lot of pain, and that had me concerned. I told somebody yesterday this is probably the hardest walking course I've ever been on. It's the hilliest, just very demanding. Some of the courses we play are pretty hilly, but you get some good shuttle cart rides from the green to the next [tee]. You don't get none of that here."

With most holes featuring uphill approach shots -- half a dozen of them to greens with tricky false fronts -- the par-70 course plays longer than its 6,711 scorecard yardage. Although there are a couple of petite par 4s (Nos. 13 and 17), No. 8 is a 477-yard brute playing gradually uphill. No. 3 is a 230-yard par 3. Golfers with Perry's length will have an advantage -- if they keep it in the fairway. 

"The rough is as bad as I've seen it anywhere in the world," Langer said, "worse than anywhere in the world, I mean. We played with a few other players, and sometimes we couldn't see the ball from three feet away. You know it went right in here, and you're looking, and you're walking from here to there, and you can't see the ball. That tells you how much it's sitting down. I've hit a couple of shots out of there, and some of the lies, I couldn't move it more than 25, 30 yards, hitting it as hard as I can. So it's just very demanding off the tee."

"This rough is as tough a rough as I've ever played, it really is," concurred Tom Watson, who at 63 is still looking for his first U.S. Senior Open title. 

Players will get a bit of a break when it comes to the greens. Because of the intense summer heat, the small putting surfaces might have to be kept a bit softer and will be more receptive than the USGA might like. "I think you'll see some pretty decent scores because of the greens being softer," Watson said. "But the golf course is a true test. The key here is putting the ball in the fairway off the tee." 

Asked to predict a winning score, Fred Couples said if someone would give him eight-under 272, he would go his room and watch television for four days while the rest of the field walked the hills. 

He might not be the only one. 

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