Sauers takes command at U.S. Senior Open

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By Murray Evans

Special to Golf Oklahoma

EDMOND – The big names are there on the leaderboard after three rounds of the U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National – Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie, Vijay Singh and Jeff Sluman among them.

But they all will be chasing a not-so-familiar front-runner. On a sizzling central Oklahoma Saturday, Gene Sauers was just as hot on the back nine, closing with a 33 to finish at 3-under 68, giving him a three-shot lead over Langer and Scott Dunlap heading into the final round.

The 51-year-old Sauers, who recorded the last of his four PGA Tour wins in 2002 and took a seven-year break from professional golf – mostly due to health issues – hasn’t recorded so much as a top-10 finish on the Champions Tour this season. But he’s posted three rounds in the 60s at Oak Tree National and is at 7-under 206.

Sauers’ most serious health issue was a bout with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a rare skin condition, from 2009 to 2011. He ended up needing skin grafts on his forearms and thighs as a result. That makes what he called the "summer cold" and "little fever" he played with Saturday a minor nuisance.

"I’m more relaxed out there, and it’s like I have been telling everybody – a bogey doesn’t matter that much anymore," Sauers said. "It does, but not as much as it used to when I was on the regular tour. I was pretty hard on myself when I was on the regular tour. That’s probably some of my downfalls, but I have learned from that. I’m more relaxed out here now."

His fellow pros have high respect for what Sauers has done in returning to competitive golf.

"I have always been very good friends with Gene and loved his golf game," Sluman said. "He swings the club beautifully. As far as golf, very, very talented, and then, you know, I’ll let him talk about his medical situation. But what he’s gone through is really incredible and we’re very happy to have him out here playing well."

Langer had four putts lip out as he shot a 71. He’s tied for second with Dunlap, who fired a 72. Montgomerie, who started the day in the lead at 7-under, briefly got to 8-under before a stretch during which he had five bogeys in 10 holes. He ended the round at 3-under, in fourth, after shooting a 74.

Marco Dawson, Singh and Sluman – the 1988 PGA Championship winner at Oak Tree – all are at 2-under.

Meanwhile, the frustrations continued on Moving Day for the four Oklahoma-based players remaining in the tournament, as all but one of them went backward in the standings.

For the second time in three days, 67-year-old Gil Morgan posted the top score of the tournament’s Sooner State contingent, shooting 1-under on the back nine en route to a 73. At 8-over 221, he’ll take a one-shot lead over fellow "Oak Tree Gang" member Bob Tway and Bill Glasson of Stillwater into the final round, with Willie Wood another two shots back.

Morgan’s birdie on No. 11 came after he hit his drive into a fairway bunker. He followed with a pitching wedge onto the green before making a 15-foot downhill putt. He also birdied the par-3 No. 17, hitting a 6-iron from about 175 yards just past the hole and making a comebacker of a putt.

Morgan was just glad to be playing on the weekend.

"That was kind of my goal starting out," he said. "I didn’t think I could have a real good chance to win here but, at the same time, you never know what’s going to happen. I kind of set my sights on trying not to make too many mistakes and survive the cut and kind of see. I had a bad round yesterday which kind of threw me out of kilter. The first day I didn’t feel like I was in too bad of shape overall, but I played poorly yesterday which meant that I kind of way down the leaderboard."

Tway shot a 75 and is 9-over for the tournament. 

"Played terrible," Tway said, matter-of-factly. "The golf course is playing difficult, but I’m making it play much more difficult than it should be. I’m missing too many fairways and can’t play from the rough. It’s not that the rough is too penal. It’s just that you can’t hit the greens. So I’m not playing very good."

Tway said the Oak Tree pros wish the course would routinely play as tough as it has this week, but "we may not have any members if it played like this all the time."

Tway eagled the par-5 No. 7, but not until after he recorded a double bogey on the 175-yard, par-3 No. 4.

"I hit in the little bunker," Tway said. "Only place you can’t hit it."

Glasson was at 1-over for the round through 14, but bogeyed the next three holes before rebounding to post a par on the par-4 No. 18, after bogeying that hole in each of the first two rounds.

"It’s just, you know, a foot here and a foot there,"Glasson said. "I made some bogeys with short irons, which you really can’t do. That’s what kind of got me sideways – a couple of 9-iron bogeys, one wedge bogey, a 7-iron bogey, and that kind of set the tone for the day."

Glasson said he returned to using the putter he used during Thursday’s first round.

"Not for any reason," he said. "I just didn’t roll the ball yesterday. I didn’t necessarily putt terribly. It’s just I’m looking for a roll, you know, a ball to kind of just start rolling a little bit faster. I tried to change my setup position a little bit. But again, I’m not seeing the shots, you know. The course is just not fitting my eye this week, and that was a concern of mine. … I’m having a hard time committing to what I’m trying to do."

Wood had six bogeys and capped his round with a double bogey on the par-4 No. 18 en route to his 77. On 18, after what he called a "perfect drive down the middle," Wood tried to hold a 4-iron into the wind but instead hooked the ball, which bounded off the cart path and went over the green.

"Sloppy golf for me today," Wood said. "I felt fine. I thought I was going to be just fine and I birdied my fifth hole to get back to 1-over, and then made bogeys on three out of the next four, and then hung in and made a bunch of pars on the next nine and doubled my last hole to really kind of turn an okay round into a pretty poor round. So it’s disappointing, to say the least."

Wood said he’s surprised that none of the members of the "Oak Tree Gang" – which includes himself, Tway, Morgan and Scott Verplank, who missed the cut – managed to contend on their home course.

"I think it’s kind of bittersweet," Wood said. "I’m happy – yes, I’m happy I’m home but I certainly would
like to have performed better and maybe I can finish it off good tomorrow."

What might that entail? Tway put it bluntly: "Hell, I’d like to shoot a round under par. That would be good. I’ll go for that."

2014 U.S. Senior Open — Rd. 4 Pairings — All times Central

7:20 a.m. — Philip Golding, England , 72-74-83  229, +16; Billy Andrade, Bristol, R.I. , 71-77-80  228, +15;

7:30 a.m. — Lonnie Nielsen, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. , 77-72-79  228, +15; Hal Sutton, Shreveport, La. , 77-71-79  227, +14;

7:40 a.m. — Hendrik Buhrmann, South Africa , 71-77-78  226, +13; Ronnie Black, Tucson, Ariz. , 71-77-78  226, +13;

7:50 a.m. — Brad Faxon, Barrington, R.I. , 74-75-77  226, +13; Sam Randolph, Fort Worth, Texas , 75-74-77  226, +13;

8 a.m. — Bart Bryant, Winter Garden, Fla. , 71-73-81  225, +12; Steve Elkington, Australia , 74-73-78  225, +12;

8:10 a.m. — Damon Green, Kissimmee, Fla. , 74-75-76  225, +12; Willie Wood, Edmond, Okla. , 74-73-77  224, +11;

8:20 a.m. — Jeff Maggert, The Woodlands, Texas , 76-72-76  224, +11; John Cook, Orlando, Fla. , 79-69-76  224, +11;

8:30 a.m. — Jerry Haas, Winston Salem, N.C. , 78-71-74  223, +10; Mike Goodes, Brown Summit, N.C. , 73-76-74  223, +10;

8:40 a.m. — Barry Lane, England , 74-69-79  222, +9; Bill Glasson, Stillwater, Okla. , 73-73-76  222, +9;

8:50 a.m. — Bob Tway, Edmond, Okla. , 74-73-75  222, +9; John Riegger, Henderson, Nev. , 77-71-74  222, +9;

9 a.m. — Rod Spittle, Canada , 71-78-73  222, +9; Bruce Vaughan, Hutchinson, Kan. , 75-74-73  222, +9;

9:10 a.m. — Mark O’Meara, Houston, Texas , 75-74-73  222, +9; Kevin Sutherland, Sacramento, Calif. , 73-72-76  221, +8;

9:20 a.m. — Gil Morgan, Edmond, Okla. , 72-76-73  221, +8; Kenny Perry, Franklin, Ky. , 75-74-72  221, +8;

9:30 a.m. — Robin Byrd, Satellite Beach, Fla. , 77-67-76  220, +7; Corey Pavin, Los Angeles, Calif. , 72-73-75  220, +7;

9:40 a.m. — Steen Tinning, Denmark , 72-75-73  220, +7; Fred Funk, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. , 70-77-73  220, +7;

9:50 a.m. — Duffy Waldorf, New Smyrna Beach, Fla. , 75-73-72  220, +7; Mike McCoy (a), Des Moines, Iowa , 74-74-72  220, +7;

10 a.m. — Jose Coceres, Argentina , 75-74-71  220, +7; Roger Chapman, England , 79-70-71  220, +7;

10:10 a.m. — Joe Durant, Pensacola, Fla. , 71-73-75  219, +6; Steve Pate, North Ranch, Calif. , 72-72-75  219, +6;

10:20 a.m. — Chris Williams, South Africa , 72-72-75  219, +6; Jeff Wilson (a), Fairfield, Calif. , 70-76-73  219, +6;

10:30 a.m. — Lance Ten Broeck, Oak Lawn, Ill. , 70-69-79  218, +5; Doug Garwood, Los Angeles, Calif. , 70-69-79  218, +5;

10:40 a.m. — Tom Lehman, Scottsdale, Ariz. , 72-69-77  218, +5; Olin Browne, Tequesta, Fla. , 70-72-76  218, +5;

10:50 a.m. — Sonny Skinner, Sylvester, Ga. , 73-70-75  218, +5; Brad Bryant, Lakeland, Fla. , 73-72-73  218, +5;

11 a.m. — Scott Hoch, Orlando, Fla. , 75-71-72  218, +5; Michael Allen, Scottsdale, Ariz. , 73-73-72  218, +5;

11:10 a.m. — Tom Byrum, San Antonio, Texas , 71-75-72  218, +5; Wes Short Jr., Austin, Texas , 73-68-76  217, +4;

11:20 a.m. — Joey Sindelar, Horseheads, N.Y. , 72-71-74  217, +4; Kirk Triplett, Scottsdale, Ariz. , 69-72-75  216, +3;

11:30 a.m. — Tom Kite, Austin, Texas , 73-70-73  216, +3; Loren Roberts, Memphis, Tenn. , 73-72-71  216, +3;

11:40 a.m. — Mark Brooks, Fort Worth, Texas , 68-71-76  215, +2; Esteban Toledo, Mexico , 73-70-72  215, +2;

11:50 a.m. — Russ Cochran, Paducah, Ky. , 70-74-71  215, +2; Rocco Mediate, Greensburg, Pa. , 70-74-71  215, +2;

12 p.m. — Peter Senior, Australia , 73-73-68  214, +1; David Frost, South Africa , 71-71-71  213, E;

12:10 p.m. — Woody Austin, Derby, Kan. , 72-70-71  213, E; Jeff Sluman, Hinsdale, Ill. , 70-69-72  211, -2;

12:20 p.m. — Vijay Singh, Fiji , 69-71-71  211, -2; Marco Dawson, Merritt Island, Fla. , 66-76-69  211, -2;

12:30 p.m. — Colin Montgomerie, Scotland , 65-71-74  210, -3; Scott Dunlap, Duluth, Ga. , 69-68-72  209, -4;

12:40 p.m. — Bernhard Langer, Germany , 69-69-71  209, -4; Gene Sauers, Savannah, Ga. , 69-69-68  206, -7;

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