American Gary Hallberg flourished at a blustery Turnberry on the second day of The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex as he overhauled overnight leader Bernhard Langer with a course record-equalling seven under par 63 to take a three shot lead into the weekend in Ayrshire.
Out in the worst of the conditions in the latter stages of Friday, day one pace-setter Langer’s challenge faltered largely thanks to a triple bogey at the par four 13th, and the two-time Major winning German had to settle for a three over par 73 and a place in the penultimate group behind Hallberg and the American’s friend and compatriot Tom Lehman who had earlier signed for a fine one over par 71.
While the first round of the 26th staging of The Senior Open had been played out amidst glorious sunshine and with barely a breath of wind, conditions were somewhat different for Friday’s second round with a healthy covering of cloud and winds gusting up to 25 miles per hour, circumstances Hallberg seemed to revel in.
A three-time winner on the US PGA Tour in the 1980s and early 1990s, Hallberg’s second round was all the more remarkable considering that the 54 year old was five over par through 13 holes on Thursday after taking 40 shots to cover the front nine, before four birdies in the last five holes salvaged a respectable first round of 71.
Playing in the third group to take to the Ailsa Course on Friday morning, when winds were somewhat less prominent than later in the day, Hallberg recovered from an early bogey with a superb run of eight birdies in 13 holes to get alongside Langer before the 42-time European Tour Champion had even teed off.
After dropping a shot at the second hole thanks to a three putt from the front edge of the green, the Illinois native bounced back with a hat-trick of birdies from the fifth to the seventh holes to make the turn in 33 blows, before starting the back nine with further birdies at the tenth and par three 11th.
Another birdie followed at the 13th, before Hallberg carded perhaps his most impressive three of the day at the 14th.
Having missed the green to the right, one of his only errant shots of the day, Hallberg holed his 40 foot birdie putt from off the green before an eighth birdie of the day at the long 17th helped seal a memorable day for the 1980 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.
“When I was five over on the first day after nine holes I thought, I'm not playing that bad,” Hallberg reflected. “I was playing good but I just couldn't get it going. So I hung in there and played a great back nine; I think the 40 helped me because it turned me around mentally to go play aggressively.
“So I played aggressively today, had some great putts go in but I also missed some putts from around six, seven feet today but you can't make them all. It was one of the great days that I've had in many years on the golf course. It was just a pleasure.”
Hallberg also revealed that he travelled to Scotland last week to acclimatise by playing the Renaissance Course near Edinburgh in the build-up to this week’s championship, an experience he believes helped him sign for an Ailsa Course record 63 on Friday, with it matching the likes of Greg Norman’s stunning round en route to winning The Open Championship at Turnberry in 1986.
“I had a great caddie last week,” he said. “I asked him, ‘How do you handle the wind over here?’ He says, ‘We lean on the wind over here.’ And I said to him, ‘So that's a good thing?’
“He says, ‘Oh, yes, sometimes you need that wind to lean on a little bit.’ And so I saw that as a positive. It kind of changed my thinking believe it or not. So today I leaned into the wind and it was favourable.
“I think when the wind is blowing, you don't have a choice. You have to hit one shot, use the wind. If it's a crosswind you hit up into the wind and let it come back; into the wind, you're hitting it low; and downwind, I try not to hit it too high. It almost makes the decisions easier.”
To students of Open Championship history, though, Hallberg’s superb morning wouldn’t come as a complete surprise, having held a tie for the 36 hole lead at the 1991 Open at Royal Birkdale, eventually finishing in tied 32nd as Ian Baker-Finch triumphed on the Southport links.
Another American also rode the wind well on Friday afternoon, as 1996 Open Champion Lehman – a close friend of Hallberg – signed for a one over par 71 to back up his 66 from the first round.
And despite finishing three shots shy of Hallberg’s 36-hole total of six under par 134, the 53 year old benefitted from Langer’s 73 to end up in the final group alongside Hallberg and Lehman reflected afterwards on “the funny old game of golf”.
“I don't think you're ever happy in golf when you shoot the worst score you can possibly shoot, which was the case yesterday,” he admitted. “But you're always really pleased in golf when you seem to shoot the best score you can possibly shoot and that was more the case today.
“I made a few mistakes out there but by and large, I really got the most I could get out of that round and really pleased. The wind was very difficult.”
Lehman also joked that upon hearing news of Hallberg’s 63 he questioned whether his compatriot had in fact been playing on Turnberry Hotel’s pitch-and-putt course over the road from the Ailsa Course.
“I thought he was across the street here,” Lehman laughed. “Amazing score, 63. I think the wind is a bit stronger now than it was even when we started at ten o'clock, but it was not a mild, gentle breeze to start, it was a strong wind to begin with.
“So when I saw his score going on the board that was to me very astounding. I thought ‘Wow, how do you do that today?’ Gary Hallberg is a bit of a character, so nothing surprises me with what he might shoot.
“He's a real funny guy, real funny. When you think about a person as a golfer, as a human being, he's such a pleasure to be around. That's why nothing surprises me. He could go and shoot 63 two more days, literally, doesn't matter what the weather might be, that's the kind of guy he is. He can do some amazing things.”
Lehman’s fellow countryman Fred Couples was the only other to have finish under par for the day, firing an impressive two under par 68 to hold a share of eighth place at level par, with only seven players left under par for the tournament with 36 holes to play.