FORMBY, England (August 3, 2016) -- On a bright and breezy day on the Lancashire coast, the San Franciscan had three birdies and two bogeys to sit at the top of the leaderboard alongside Sweden’s Stefan Lindberg.
They lead by one shot from Scots John Fraser and Graham Bell, and England’s John Ambridge.
Former champions Paul Simson (73) and Chip Lutz (74) are also nicely for the 54-hole title, while fellow-Americans, Patrick Tallent, the defending champion, and 2014 victor, Brady Exber, were both on 76.
Haag has twice won the top amateur prize - the silver medal - at the British Senior Open. He claimed the honour at Carnoustie in 2010 and again the following year at Walton Heath.
But he was left disappointed 12 months ago at Royal County Down when a mix-up over a storm delay led to his premature exit from last year’s event.
“I played two holes before the weather stopped play,” explained the six-time North Californian Player of the Year. “I went back to my hotel and when I called about the restarting time I misunderstood the information.
“The next call was from The R&A to tell me I had been disqualified. It was the most miserable feeling. So I am very excited to be back over here again.”
Before his trip to the UK, Haag won a qualifying event for the US Seniors’ Open, and his impressive form continued with “one of the best ball-striking rounds of my life."
He hit 17 greens in the tricky conditions, and could have shot even lower if he had fared better on the greens. He accumulated 36 putts.
Lindberg opened with two birdies through the first three holes, almost eagled the long 3rd, and finished strong with more gains at the 15th and 17th.
The Helsingborg golfer missed last year’s Championship due to a back injury, but now fully fit, the Swede is aiming to emulate Champion Golfer of the Year Henrik Stenson success on British links this summer.
Fraser, a former head teacher at an Edinburgh High school, was a shinty player in his younger days. He hit four birdies and four bogeys in a solid level par round, and ended in style at the par four 18th by holing a monster putt for a three.
“I didn’t really play golf seriously at all until I was older,” said the Royal Burgess Club Captain. “I have played for Scotland as a senior but never did anything before that.”
Moor Park’s Ambridge did play as a junior - he was in the same Hertfordshire teams as Nick Faldo and Ken Brown and he qualified as an amateur to play in two Open Championships.
The highlight of his round was a chip-in eagle at the long 17th. His putt for birdie and a tie for the lead lipped out at the last.
Bell described the windy conditions as “pretty brutal, almost gale force” but a third birdie of the day at the 17th helped lift him to equal par.
Simson, a three-time former winner, has a class pedigree. He is a two-time US Senior Amateur Champion and has also won the Canadian Seniors Open title.
“I had an uncharacteristically poor short game today,” said the 65-year-old from Raleigh in North Carolina who won this title in 2006, 2008 and 2010. “But the rest of my game was pretty solid.”
Tallent admitted he has not had too much time for golf over the past 12 months. He has gained three new grandchildren since his win in Northern Ireland, including a set of twins.