Strong start for Argentines at Senior Open

HAVEN, Wis. (AP) — Jim Woodward, a qualifier playing in his first Champions Tour event, shot a 67 to finish his first round Friday and move within a stroke of leader Eduardo Romero.

Woodward was one of 78 golfers caught in a thunderstorm Thursday afternoon that halted play. All the golfers caught a break Friday morning with calm winds and soft greens.

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Lonnie Nielsen, who won last week at the Commerce Bank Championship, and Bruce Vaughan were two strokes behind Romero after also finishing their rounds Friday morning, while Jon Fiedler, Ron Vlosich, Vicente Fernandez and Gil Morgan were three back.

“There’s good news and bad news getting up at five in the morning,” Woodward said. “When you do, you get to play that second nine with no wind, so it’s a big advantage for us.”

Woodward, who turned 50 on June 5 and qualified in Wichita, Kan., said he plans to try to qualify for the Champions Tour after playing as a club pro for the last several years. He joked with Tom Kite earlier in the week that he’d prefer to win the U.S. Senior Open to make qualification moot.

“I told Kite in our practice round … ‘I think I’ll just win this week, and that’ll fix everything,'” Woodward said. “I guess I should be nervous, but I’m not.”

Romero and Fernandez, meanwhile, believe Argentinian golf is only getting better.

Romero made timely putts and used his long, straight drives to overcome the more than 1,300 bunkers at Whistling Straits to take the first-round lead with a 6-under 66 on Thursday.

Romero used his own money to sponsor Angel Cabrera, last month’s U.S. Open winner, when Cabrera was trying to make it on the European Tour.

Cabrera, in turn, gave Romero some advice after winning at Oakmont.

“He said to me, ‘If you go there, try to win the tournament, because two U.S. Opens in one month is fantastic,”‘ Romero said. “And I said, ‘Angel, I know it’s hard, but I’ll try my best.”‘

Romero said he knows he has a long way to go despite shooting the fourth-best opening round in U.S. Senior history by hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. He also sank a 50-foot eagle on No. 16.

“The opening round is very good and probably Angel Cabrera (is) trying to celebrate, but three more rounds to go, you don’t know what happens – especially in this golf course, especially in the U.S. Senior Open, because there are a lot of good players behind me,” Romero said. “I have to be very careful, you know?”

Cabrera was just a 10-year-old caddie when Romero’s father, a club pro in Argentina, proclaimed the boy had the potential to become a pro player. Fernandez thinks many more will follow.

“We have about 50 youngsters playing worldwide on different tours,” said Fernandez, the only other Argentine in the tournament. “Argentinian boys are doing very well on every tour. They’re winning everywhere. So I’m not surprised.”

Cabrera’s victory at Oakmont was only the second in a major championship by an Argentine, and the first since Roberto De Vicenzo won the 1967 British Open. De Vicenzo was a hero to Romero and other Argentinian golfers. He also won the 1980 U.S. Senior Open.

Now, golf’s popularity is growing rapidly, in part, Fernandez said, because of a different approach in developing talent by letting promising players join a variety of different tours to test their mettle.

“They need a little bit more support from our federation and our PGA to get better,” Fernandez said. “We’re doing very well, I mean, those youngsters, they’re practicing and they’re training and they take care of themselves very well.”

Romero teed off from the 10th hole Thursday morning, sinking back-to-back birdie putts at No. 12 and No. 13 before rolling in an eagle putt on the par-5 16th hole to go 4-under par.

The ball nearly skipped past the hole, bouncing up before dropping in the cup, but Romero had three more birdies on the back nine, and his lone bogey of the round came on No. 7.

Whistling Straits had calm winds Thursday morning until thunderstorms rolled in later that afternoon. It led to lower scores at the relatively tree-free course that boasts a flock of about 40 Scottish Blackface sheep that roam the knobby hills.

But the links weren’t kind to everyone on Thursday or Friday morning.

Two-time U.S. Senior Open champion Hale Irwin struggled, triple-bogeying the par-four 15th hole after needing two shots to get out of a sand trap followed by a three-putt. He also bogeyed three of his final five holes to finish 4-over par.

Allen Doyle, trying to become the first player to win three straight U.S. Senior Opens, didn’t have much luck in his round, either. He double-bogeyed No. 10, his first hole, and then lost four more strokes when he returned to the course Friday morning to finish 11-over 83.

Divots: Three players have shot 7-under in the first round of the U.S. Senior Open since it began in 1980. The most recent was Craig Stadler in 2005. … Play was suspended Thursday at 5:05 p.m. CDT and called for the day at 6:15 p.m. …. Romero’s eagle was the first of 10 made Thursday.

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