Gene Sauers shot a 3-under 67 in the first round of the Senior British Open at Royal Birkdale on Thursday, while defending champion Fred Couples struggled to an opening 74.
Sauers used three back-nine birdies on Nos. 15-17 to propel the 50-year-old American to the top of the leaderboard, one shot clear of Bernhard Langer, David Frost, Peter Senior and Frankie Minoza in Southport, England.
Two shots back at Corey Pavin, Gary Hallberg, John Cook and Jeff Hart.
Only 10 players were better than par on Thursday in windy conditions.
“I hit a lot of solid shots in the wind, so it didn’t really mess with me too much,” Sauers said. “I’m really pleased with the way I played. This is only my third British Open and it’s a great privilege and honor to be here.”
Tom Kite, Steve Pate, Mark Wiebe, Rocco Mediate, Steve Jones and Tom Pernice Jr. were among a large group at 70 along with Scotland’s Sandy Lyle, Ireland’s Mark McNulty and New Zealand’s Greg Turner.
Couples wasn’t the only big-name American to struggle, as Mark O’Meara also fired a 74.
Hall-of-Famer Colin Montgomerie was two strokes better at 72.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story