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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Old-Timers Set Early U.S. Open Pace

OAKMONT, Pennsylvania -- It was no day to harp on the heat or grouse about the greens. It was a day to bask in the glory of what once was, and to dream of what still might be. Thursday two grand masters of the game, 44-year-old Tom Watson and 54-year-old Jack Nicklaus, stood one-two on the leader board after a lightning-shortened first round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. Nicklaus, who won his first Open here 32 years ago at age 22, shot 2-under-par 69 in the morning round and held a piece of the lead for most of this suffocating day of temperatures in the mid-nineties. Nicklaus's score held up until Watson dropped a three-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole late in the afternoon, followed with a routine par on the 18th to finish with a 68, stealing just a small clap of thunder from Nicklaus's wondrous round completed five hours before. Three-time Open champion Hale Irwin, South African wonder boy Ernie Els and New Zealand's bearded star, Frank Nobilo, finished even with Nicklaus at 69. Two-time Open champion Curtis Strange, despite a double-bogey butchering of the 18th hole that included three putts from 15 feet, was in a group of four at 70. Other big names within five strokes of the lead included Greg Norman at 71, Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros and Fred Couples at 72, and Tom Kite and Nick Faldo at 73. Couples salvaged his round when he drove the green on the 315-yard 17th hole and made a 30-foot eagle putt. Play was suspended because lightning flashes were detected near the golf course. Six threesomes were still on the course, but none of the players was threatening to post his name on the leader board. They were to have completed their first round on the back nine Friday morning. Watson said Nicklaus's score got his adrenaline flowing for a round that included a 60-foot chip-in for birdie at the 431-yard seventh hole and important saves of par from trouble on four other holes. In all, Watson had six one-putt greens and a chip-in that enabled him to "turn a 71 into a 68." "I'm playing well. It's not a fluke. If I can get the putter working like it did today for four rounds, I'll win the golf tournament." But no putt could have matched the drama of Nicklaus's scintillating birdie at 18. From a pin-high spot to the left of the flag, it broke 10 feet and carried a total of 40 before dropping into the hole, extending his U.S. Open record with his 28th round in the 60s. Nicklaus could hardly believe it himself, rolling his eyes, placing his hands over his head and looking skyward after that last stroke of genius had plunked into the cup. The sonic-boom Golden Bear roar and standing ovation from the thousands in the gallery was unmistakable. That stunning 69 at the end of his scorecard was mostly unbelievable for a man who hasn't made a cut in five Professional Golfers' Association Tour events and The Masters this season, and who has not posted single round in the 60s in any of them. "Sure I get more interested and more excited when I get to a major championship," Nicklaus said. "I am not surprised, that's what I've been trying to do all week and all year," he said. "When I get to a major championship and I get my concentration, I have always felt I can be competitive."