With 65, Hall casts himself among the heavy hitters

Single-time winner 1 up on Kite, Canizares

Eaks 2 back after second round

U.s. Senior Open

Caves Valley Golf Club

June 29, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

In most ways, the 2002 U.S. Senior Open at Caves Valley Golf Club is a world away from the weekend tournaments Walter Hall played in around North Carolina during the years he spent as a sales manager for an appliance distributor.

In one important way, it's exactly the same.

The player who shoots the lowest score wins.

Hall, who has played the Senior PGA Tour with steady improvement during the past five years, put himself in position to contend for and possibly win the biggest tournament of his life.

With a 6-under-par 65 yesterday, Hall took the 36-hole lead at 7-under-par 135. Hall leads former U.S. Open champion Tom Kite and Jose Maria Canizares of Spain by one stroke.

First-round leader R.W. Eaks struggled to a 2-over-par 73 and was two strokes behind. Three players - former Open champion and Hall of Famer Tom Watson, Isao Aoki of Japan, as well as Fred Gibson - were three strokes back.

Reminded that his score was five shots better than his previous best in a Senior Open, Hall said, "It sure is. And I probably won't ever do that again. But I sure had my day in the sun today. This was my Tom Kite imitation today."

Kite did a fairly good imitation of himself as well. After finishing the last two holes of a first round suspended by lightning Thursday night with two pars for a 2-under 69, Kite shot a 4-under 67 yesterday.

"I think the golf course gave up some good scores today," said Kite, 52, who is trying to win his second senior tour major. "I think you had to be a little aggressive. But it's not giving up good scores to everybody."

Defending champion Bruce Fleisher can attest to that. Fleisher followed up an opening-round 76 with a 75 despite making birdies on two of the first three holes and missed the cut for only the second time in 15 Senior PGA Tour majors.

"It's very difficult at this point in time," said Fleisher, whose streak of six straight Top 10 finishes this year also ended. "I played miserably. It was a lousy two days. I thought I was ready, but I was wrong."

While Hale Irwin is still in the tournament, he is no longer in the hunt. The two-time Senior Open champion, considered a favorite to win a third to match his number of regular Open titles, finished with a 74 and is at 5-over-par 147.

The cut was made at 7-over-par 149. Among those who missed the cut were two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, as well as former Senior Open champions Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Dave Stockton.

The weekend shapes up as a showdown between the senior tour's haves and have-nots.

At one end, there are players such as Hall, whose only victory in five years on the senior tour came at last year's AT&T Canadian Senior Open Championship, as well as Eaks, whose only victories as a pro came on the Buy.com Tour.

At the other end, there are players such as Kite, once the PGA Tour's all-time money-winner, as well as Watson, who once was the No. 1 player in the world and whose eight major championships include a record-tying five British Open titles.

"Normally you have people who are in the hunt in the majors in the regular tour that get in the hunt out here," said Watson, 52. "We have that five-year window that puts a lot of guys who have won in the past out of the realm, and lets some people in there who are in the prime of their senior tour career."

The sight of the big names right under his doesn't faze Hall.

When he won his only senior tour event, in a playoff over Ed Dougherty, he played the final round with Kite and Jim Thorpe. He beat Fleisher by one stroke, Jim Thorpe by three and Kite by four.

"That was great," Hall, 55, said yesterday afternoon, about the time a thunderstorm delayed play for an hour. "Everyone out here feels they can win. Whatever happens happens. If it's meant to be, then it means it's my time to win. If not, I'll try again next week."

Much of Hall's philosophy, about life and golf, was shaped by the two years he spent working as a military police officer in Vietnam, guarding planes at the Nha Trang Air Force base in 1969 and 1970.

"Anybody who was in Vietnam has a different outlook," he said. "It really changed a lot of lives. I have no baggage, but it was a sad, sad time. Where I was it was bad, but it wasn't as bad as what others went through."

After being discharged, Hall returned home to Winston-Salem, N.C. He tried qualifying for the PGA Tour four times, but never made it. He finally gave up, and helped his wife, Carol, raise their daughter Holly, now 24.

Hall's biggest victory as an amateur was the Carolinas Mid-Amateur in 1985. He won an event on the Hooters Tour in 1996 and finished second six times on the senior tour before his breakthrough win in Ontario.

He has no delusions of grandeur in the hills of Owings Mills.

"I just want to play good golf," said Hall, who had six birdies and no bogeys yesterday. "I've played good golf for most of the five years I've been on the senior tour. I have no complaints. I played really, really well today, just about as good as I can."

Eaks, 50, didn't come close to repeating his magical round from Thursday. But after starting out with two bogeys in his first six holes, then getting back to 7-under with two birdies before making a double bogey on the par-4 17th, Eaks was just happy still to be in the hunt.

"To be honest, I was nervous," he said. "The way I finished up on Thursday, I was a little bit apprehensive today. The thing that saved my round was the rain delay. It helped me get settled down. I'm only two back."

Just one of the have-nots, battling those with bigger reputations in the biggest senior tour championship of them all.

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