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U.S. SENIOR OPEN: Albany's Skinner shoots 1-over, tied for 47th after first round

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Maybe a hot dog would have put Sonny Skinner near the top of the leaderboard.

Honest.

Skinner, the club pro at River Pointe, flirted with the leaders when he made the turn after nine holes at 2-under, but ran into trouble and a high rough down the stretch Thursday in the U.S. Senior Open at legendary Inverness.

It was a blazing, muggy day and Skinner, who finished at 1-over 72 and tied for 47th, was looking for birdies and a hot meal at the end of his first round

"It was a hot day. The heat index was over 100, and it only took us five hours to play,'' Skinner said with a smile. "All I had to eat was a banana and some peanuts. I would have (liked) to take five minutes at the turn and gotten a hot dog.''

He had shrimp for dinner -- but that was later Thursday night.

But when he looked back at his day, he felt pretty good.

"I did a lot of good things,'' he said. "And I almost birdied 10, 11 and 12, but I didn't.''

He fell just short during that three-hole stretch, and after getting birdies at the two par 5s on the front nine and heading to the back nine with a 2-under 35, Skinner just missed going on a tear at 10, 11 and 12. Then he ran into bogeys at 13 and 14, but came back to birdie 15.

But Skinner lost his momentum when he went into the water at 16 and carded another bogey to go back to even for the day.

"I hit it in the water,'' Skinner said. "I hit a fade and just missed it. But I came back and birdied the next hole.''

He finished with the up-and-down swing with a birdie at 17 and a bogey at 18 to finish eight strokes behind Olin Browne, who led after the first round with a 7-under 64.

Browne eagled two holes in a five-hole span down the stretch for a two-stroke lead. Browne, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour in his third year on the over-50 circuit, had four birdies, two eagles and a bogey.

At 2-under and three shots off the pace on his 13th hole, he hit a hybrid-3 from 216 yards that came to rest 6 feet from the pin at the Par-5 4th and then rolled in the putt for eagle.

His next eagle was far more dramatic.

He laid up with a 4-iron second shot on the par-5 8th and had 97 yards left. His wedge landed just over the flag, then spun back into the cup as he cast a stunned look at caddie Otis Moore.

Over the six holes numbered 3 through 8, he went 6 under, and picked up five shots on par in a span of five holes.

The 64 tied for the lowest first round ever at a U.S. Senior Open, matching Bruce Fleisher (2000), R.W. Eaks (2002) and Craig Stadler (2005). It was also the lowest Champions Tour score for Browne, although in the final rounds of his only two previous U.S. Senior Opens he had shot 65 and 66.

Playing late on an oppressively humid day at lengthy Inverness Club, Browne was two strokes clear of Mark O'Meara and Michael Allen, who each shot bogey-free 66s.

O'Meara, whose last two PGA victories came in the 1998 Masters and British Open, used an old set of irons while fighting off jet lag from a frequent-flyer's dream trip over the past few weeks. Allen's only Seniors victory came in another major championship in Ohio, the 2009 Senior PGA at Canterbury in Cleveland.

Amateur Damon Green, better known as Zach Johnson's caddie, was at 67 with former U.S. Open champion Steve Jones and Mark Wiebe.

Another shot back at 68 were former British Open winner Mark Calcavecchia, U.S. Open winner Corey Pavin and PGA Championship victor Jeff Sluman, along with Steve Pate, Tommy Armour III, Jim Thorpe, Kiyoshi Murota and Trevor Dodds.

Seemingly ageless Hale Irwin was up to his usual tricks. The winner of three U.S. Opens, including the 1979 edition at Inverness Club, was once again in contention in a major at age 66. He shot a 69.

There were 35 players who broke par and another 11 who equaled it.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer, still rounding into shape after rehabbing a thumb injury for four months, shot a 70. He was joined at 1-under by Russ Cochran, coming off a major championship victory a week ago at the Senior British Open.

The rain has slowed the greens considerably.

"The greens were a little soft and the course is playing long (because of the recent rain),'' Skinner said. "The greens weren't any quicker than the ones at Doublegate or River Pointe. They're about the same speed.''

The recent rains not only slowed the course, but made it difficult to negotiate the rough. Skinner found out when he came up short on No.13, and had to come out of some tall grass, which cost him his first bogey of the day.

"I landed in hay,'' he said. "It was about four-inches deep there.''

The golfers will have to live with it. More rain is in the forecast for the legendary course.

"The golf course is a little too soft, and not like a U.S. Open,'' Skinner said. "They are calling for more rain, and we're just going to have to adjust. The course is going to be soft and the greens are going to be soft, and the rough is going to be even more brutal.''

Skinner emerged in decent shape after the first round, and with a bit of luck could have been three or four shots under.

"I hit some good shots and when I made the turn at 2-under I was hitting the ball good, and feeling good. But when I didn't hit it good I paid for it.," he said.

Still, Skinner, who was playing in his first U.S. Senior Open and second Senior Tour event, isn't out of reach of the leaders.

"I'm not negative about it,'' he said. "I did a lot of good things. I'm not too far off. I need to go out and shoot under par (today) and everything will be all right.''

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.