COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The competition is different, but 10 years after Rocco Mediate’s epic, 19-hole playoff loss to Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open, the Greensburg native is contending again.
This time, it’s the U.S. Senior Open.
Mediate shot 2-under-par 68 on Thursday and trails by two shots on the wind-whipped, sun-baked Broadmoor course.
“It looks like a U.S. Open golf course,” Mediate said. “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.”
The ultimate test for the seniors produced only eight below-par scores, and not a single player — not even leader Jerry Kelly — finished 18 holes without a bogey on his card.
Kelly gave it a run, though.
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 66, which was good enough for a two-shot lead over Mediate, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Kevin Sutherland and Deane Pappas.
“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.”
Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz spent the day 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.”
Defending champion Kenny Perry shot 71 but made only one 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.
Janzen and Mediate trekked to Colorado Springs last month to play a few practice rounds and gain some of the valuable local knowledge.
Smoltz, whose day job is broadcasting baseball games for Fox, walked onto the Broadmoor for the first time this week. He hired a local caddie, Colin Prater, who was a Division II All-American at Colorado-Colorado Springs.
Almost immediately, though, the pitcher-turned-golfer received a crash course in the difference between casual rounds of golf and the sport at its most difficult.
“I never expected to get that many bad lies,” he said. “Nothing I could do about it. And I had a lot of tough shots that I have not practiced and that I am not used to hitting.”
A few times during the round, Smoltz had to stop, take off his shoes and tape up his toes, which were raw and aching. Lesson: Don’t break in new golf shoes at the U.S. Open.
“It was fun to have him out here,” said Bob Ford, who was in the threesome with Smoltz. “But I didn’t expect him to break 80. I know how good he is. But this is just another world. It’s not his world.”