FILIPINO legend Frankie Miñoza rode a slew of back-nine birdies on Thursday to shoot a 2-under-par 68 and be in a four-man group trailing American Gene Sauers by a stroke after the first 18 holes of the Senior British Open at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England.
The 53-year-old Miñoza, who earned his ticket to the Open after topping the Japan Senior Open last November, roared back from 4 over after just three holes by gunning down five of his seven birdies— including four on the last five holes—in a sizzling back-nine 31.
After opening with bogey-par, the former Asian No. 1 dropped three shots on the 451-yard third hole before regaining his focus with back-to-back birdies from No. 4. He settled for a 37 going out after another bogey on No. 8.
Miñoza’s splendid effort was an apparent carryover from his form over the last two weeks, when he won the Del Monte and Pueblo De Oro legs of the local ICTSI Tour by wide margins over much younger players.
Miñoza, who divides his time playing in the Philippines, the Japan regular and senior tours and the Champions’ (Senior) Tour in the United States, was tied at 2-under with three distinguished campaigners—2010 champion and two-time Masters winner Bernhard Langer of Germany, Peter Senior of Australia and David Frost of South Africa.
Langer birdied three of his last four holes to get into a tie with Miñoza, the early clubhouse leader.
The winds obviously bothered everyone and Birkdale surrendered just 10 sub-par scores, with defending champion Fred Couples of the United States shooting a 74 to be five off the pace.
Sauers, a 50-year-old rookie on the seniors tour, made just four birdies but anchored his round on nine consecutive pars on the front nine. His only bogey came on the 11th.
“I hit a lot of solid shots into the wind, so it really didn’t bother me too much,” Sauers told USA Today.
Ramontito Garcia, the Cebu Country Club standout in the PAL Interclub, is caddying for his close friend Miñoza.
Corey Pavin, the former US Ryder Cup captain, and fellow Americans John Cook, Gary Hallberg and Jeff Hart and Australia’s Peter Fowler all returned 69s to be two strokes adrift.
Cook threw away a potential 67 by signing for a double bogey on the 18th hole. Musong R. Castillo