Sauers Sweet in Opening Round of Senior British Open

Gene Sauers emerged as the 18-hole leader in the Senior British Open after firing a 3-under 67. The Champions Tour's final major of the year began Thursday at a breezy Royal Birkdale in Merseyside, England.

The 50-year-old Sauers, who made his debut on the over-50 circuit in last August's Boeing Classic near Seattle, went out with nine straight pars. But on the home half he recorded four birdies and a bogey to go up by a stroke over Frankie Minoza of the Philippines, South Africa's David Frost, German Bernhard Langer and Australia's Peter Senior.

Sauers told reporters later he was pleased with his start and appreciative of the opportunity to play one of the UK's hallowed courses, one in the regular rotation for the Open Championship. "It's a great place and a privilege and honor to be here," the three-time PGA Tour winner said.

"I've not played an awful lot of links golf but I like the different challenge; you don't know which way the ball is going to bounce so you're kind of hitting and hoping sometimes, but I'm really enjoying it."

Sauers' last win on the PGA Tour came in the 2002 Air Canada Championship. He competed on the Tour until 2005, but from 2006 to '01, he didn't play at all after being diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a serious skin condition.

So just being able to play again at a high level is rewarding for the 50-year-old Georgian. "It's a second chance," he said Thursday. "Both arms, both legs were burned up. After Duke University diagnosed me, I spent seven weeks in hospital, had seven lots of skin grafts and it was torture. I tell you, I don't want anybody to go through that. I'm blessed and I'm glad to be here."

After a birdie on the front nine to make the turn in 1-under 33, Frost tacked on another birdie on the par-4 10th. But two bogeys at Nos. 13 and 16, both par-4s, threatened his round before Frost - who won June's Regions Tradition, a major - eagled the par-5 17th and parred the last.

Langer also got off to a slow start, with a bogey on the sixth leading the Hall of Fame member to make the turn in 1-over. But three birdies in his final four holes took the 18-time Champions Tour winner to only a shot behind Sauers. "How I finished was very pleasing because 18 is not a simple hole," said Langer.

"I wasn't totally happy with my first seven or eight holes, because I had a number of chances to make birdies and just didn't putt well. But it was very tight. I played very well off the tee and into the greens and gave myself opportunities, kept it out of these pot bunkers and out of the long grass. I had opportunities and finally the putter started working at the end."

When asked on the eve of the tournament whether he'd like to earn his third major on the over-50 circuit, the response by Langer - who had a banner year in 2010 with wins in this championship as well as the U.S. Senior Open, wasn't surprising. "Well, I'd like to. Obviously it's stiff competition. Every year that's new guys coming out and the old ones don't go away.

"So there's a lot of great champions here, and it's going to take some really good golf to lift the trophy by Sunday. Hopefully that will be me, but as I said, there's probably 60, 80 other guys that have the same chance. And I think it's going to be someone that hits a lot of fairways and obviously got to make some putts."

Two strokes out of the lead are four Americans - Gary Hallberg, John Cook, Corey Pavin and Jeff Hart, and Aussie Peter Fowler. Twelve players posted even-par 70s.

Defending champion Fred Couples got off to a rocky start, carding a 4-over 74 that included six bogeys and a pair of birdies.

Other scores included a 72 by Scotland's Colin Montgomerie - a rookie on the Champions Tour, and a 73 by Tom Watson, who's won the Senior Open Championship thrice and the British Open five times.

"There is a lot to do over the next three days, but it is something to build on, certainly," Montgomerie told reporters Thursday. "So I was quite happy really. I just messed up 10, 11 and 12, which hopefully, I won't do tomorrow. I'm 2-over, that's five behind.

"Remember, not a week ago Phil Mickelson came from five behind with one round to go and I've got three to do it, so I'm in prime position."

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