By Ken MacLeod
TULSA, Okla. (AP) –– Steve Stricker wrested the lead from a faltering Mike Weir, but a new nemesis is right on his heels heading into the final round of the Senior PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
Alex Cejka, who defeated Stricker in a playoff early in May to win the Regions Tradition, a senior major, in just his third start on the Champions Tour, shot a 2-under 68 while Stricker fired a 3-under 67 in a stiff north breeze Saturday. Stricker is 6-under and Cejka a shot back at 5 under.
Weir, who was 8-under through 11 holes, made a double bogey on 12, starting a stretch of giving back five shots in five holes. His 74 puts him three shots behind Stricker at 3-under but still in the final group Sunday.
Cejka, a four-time winner on the European Tour, won his only PGA Tour event in 2015 when he captured the Puerto Rico Open. He played his way onto the Champions Tour as a Monday qualifier and was an alternate before getting in the field and eventually winning at the Tradition. He also finished second at the Chubb Classic in mid-April.
“He’s been playing great,” Stricker said. “Yeah, I’m going to have my hands full tomorrow. I mean he’s been playing great and I’m going to have to take care of my own self, my own game and hopefully put up a good score. I know the confidence level that he has must be high if he’s right up there again this week. He started as a Monday qualifier and wins a major and he’s in contention again here this week, so it’s a great story. “
Cejka, a native of Czechoslovakia whose family fled the country when he was 10, bogeyed his first two holes then made four birdies and no bogeys the rest of the way. He said he has watched numerous players in the past start with a bang on the Champions Tour after turning 50.
“I’m riding the wave,” he said. “Let’s hope I’ll ride it for a little bit. I’m playing well and I just want to play as long and as good as possible because eventually it’s going to fade off. I mean, that’s normal, you know? But we’ll see what I can do the next whatever, weeks, months, couple years, who knows.”
Stricker, the 2021 Ryder Cup captain who was 2-0 when playing with a 54-hole lead on the senior circuit before losing to Cejka, played a solid round, making five birdies against two bogeys. He hit his approach shot on the 10th hole to tap-in range, then holed out from a bunker on the 485-yard par-4 16th, which plays straight back into the wind.
“I stole one there,” Stricker said. “It’s a tough hole and you’re just trying to make a 4 there. . . This is a tough place and it gets your attention on a lot of shots It’s a great test of golf and I feel good about what I did today.”
Weir wasn’t feeling as good. He pushed his tee shot to the left on the par-4 12th behind a tree, punched out, then missed the green right with a short iron and failed to get up and down for the double bogey. He left his third shot short in a bunker on the par-5 13th leading to another bogey, the pushed his tee shot on 15 and wound up missing a par save from 5 feet. His tee shot on 16 found a massive fairway bunker, leading to a layup and another missed par save.
“I was just a little off with my game and this is a tough golf course,” Weir said. “It’s a demanding course and it will bite you. And I got bit a little bit today on the back side. But, yeah, I’ll go try to iron a couple things out here and try to get a good attitude, some good rest and get ready for tomorrow.”
Beyond those in the final group, Tim Petrovic and K.J. Choi are five back at 1-under. Petrovic shot 68 and Choi 71 Saturday. Jerry Kelly (69) and Stephen Leaney (71) are even par.
Among players with Oklahoma ties, Brandt Jobe of Edmond is tied for 19th at 4-over after an even-par 70 Saturday. Willie Wood of Edmond is tied for 37th at 7 over after a 73. Former Sooner Glen Day is tied for 44th after a 76. Former Tulsan Matt Gogel is tied for 49th at 9 over after a 73. Scott Verplank of Edmond is tied for 72nd after a 78.