Roberts, Jacobsen, Stadler tied for lead

Updated: July 27, 2006, 5:27 PM ET
By Bill Fields | Golf World

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- By all rights, neither Peter Jacobsen nor Gary Player should have even been playing in the first round of the Senior British Open Thursday at the Ailsa course.

Jacobsen is only a few months away from surgery to replace his worn-out left hip, a joint so incapacitating that he almost didn't make the flight over from the United States to compete in the fourth major of the year on the Champions Tour. Player is 70 years old, at a roundabout in life when many legends would be content to shelve their clubs and let the record book do the talking.

A master mimic, Jacobsen has always been able to do a good imitation of Player's mannerisms and his swing. Now he is copying Player's mantra, carpe diem, knowing he'll be getting a new left hip for an early Christmas present.

Hobbled but far from hapless, Jacobsen shot a five-under-par 65 to share the first-round lead with Craig Stadler and Loren Roberts, while Player broke his age for the third time on the Champions Tour with a 69 despite a double bogey on the ninth hole.

Loren Roberts
Richard Heathcote/Getty ImagesLoren Roberts enjoyed the only bogey-free round on Thursday to grab a share of the lead.

It was hard to tell who was happier, the injured golfer or the indefatigable one.

Jacobsen wasn't sure he was going to travel to Scotland until Sunday morning, after he hit a few balls for the first time since last Thursday when he had a pain-blocking epidural in his lower back and a platelet injection in the bum hip. "I wasn't sure I was coming," Jacobsen said, "but because of this venue, I did everything I could to come. I'm certainly not the greatest player in the world -- never have been, never will be -- but the opportunity to play Turnberry is one you don't pass up. Floyd Landis at the Tour de France really impressed me with his bad hip. He was a stud. So that inspired me. If he can win the Tour de France on a bike, I can certainly try to win a golf tournament walking."

Player, who first matched his age on the Champions Tour when he was 64 at the 2000 BellSouth Senior Classic, bettered it Thursday on a 7,012-yard layout where he won the Senior British title in 1988 and 1990. It was impressive stuff for a 146-pound man who is averaging 241 yards a drive on the Champions Tour this year.

"That was a real thrill today," said Player, "to beat your age when you are 70, particularly on a course like this." He was so into his round he didn't realize he hadn't achieved the feat until the final putt dropped. "I didn't think about it today, although normally I would. I was so focused today on what I was doing. That is hard to do when you get to 70. Concentrating like that requires so much energy."

Jacobsen bogeyed the first hole as a brief rain squall moved over the links before yielding to picnic-perfect skies. Like the weather, Jacobsen improved. He birdied four straight holes starting at No. 5, and added birdies at the 11th, 14th and 17th offset by a three-putt bogey on No. 16. "The more he complains about his hip, the better he plays," said a joking Stadler, whose round was keyed by an eagle-3 at the 17th hole. "He loves to play hurt." Jacobsen is long a fan of golf in the British Isles, despite a lack of success in the British Open.

"You know, I never was close enough to win, I don't believe," he said. "My best move in the Open championship was probably in '85 when I tackled the streaker there. Sandy Lyle was trying to win his first Open and some naked guy ran out."

Jacobsen doesn't know how much he will be able to play before undergoing surgery. Last week's treatments have provided some relief, but the inevitable operation looms. "They told me I can expect a full recovery," Jacobsen said. "Hip-replacement surgery is so advanced now, that if I do it the first of November, I should be back [by the] middle of January to beginning of February 100 percent. That's my goal, that's my plan."

Player's immediate plan following his pleasant tour of Turnberry was a vigorous workout in the hotel gym. "I'll go to the gym this afternoon and work out hard," Player said, noting how hard it is for him to maintain his muscle strength since he got in his mid-60s. "Your testosterone level lowers," he said. "When I turned 65, it started to go down. I'm doing a thousand crunches a day. I've got this &" He raised his right arm high and twice slapped his stomach hard. "That's like a plank."

By his count, Player figures he has broken his age, all told, about 40 times. "Now that I'm 70, it gets easier. But that's unimpressive. I had dinner last night with a man of 90 who told us he's done it 1,600 times. But they give themselves a lot of putts. It's a hell of a difference when you break your age in an Open Championship."

Indeed, it is.

Bill Fields is a senior editor for Golf World magazine.