Don Pooley hits out of a fairway trap on No. 18. His shot was 30 yards short of the green, but he managed to save par.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. - Don Pooley is a patient man. He never won a junior golf tournament, never won a college tournament, never won as an amateur.
Heck, even in his best year as a professional, when he captured the Vardon Trophy for low scoring average on the PGA Tour in 1985, he didn't win a tournament.
So if it should take him more than five decades to fashion a major championship win, so be it.
Pooley, a modest man of modest results, put his name in the record book next to the big boys yesterday with a 63, the lowest round in U.S. Senior Open history, during the third round at Caves Valley Golf Club.
Only Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf had previously authored 63s in men's U.S. Open play.
Pretty good company for a guy who won but two PGA Tour titles in 540 starts over 25 years.
“Frankly, I was very satisfied with my PGA career,” he said. “You look at where I came from, never winning anything, but my game just slowly kept getting better. I've very much appreciated every success I've had out here.”
Pooley's biggest success could come today as he takes a three-shot lead into the final round of the Senior Open.
His record-setting card gave him a 54-hole total of 9-under-par 204. Tom Watson, who shot a 69 yesterday, and Walter Hall (72) are tied at 6-under 207. Ed Dougherty is alone at 5-under 208 after a round of 68, while Tom Kite, whose title bid was blunted by a double bogey at No. 17, is 4-under after a round of 2-over 73.
Pooley, who won the 1980 B.C. Open and cashed his largest career paycheck ($140,000) after winning the '87 Memorial, has always been known as the possessor of one of the game's truest putting strokes. In fact, he led the PGA Tour's putting statistics in 1988 and 1997.
Yesterday, he needed just 25 putts in a nine-birdie, one-bogey round.
“I think putting is a gift as much as anything,” Pooley said. “I've never had the yips, but I have gone stretches without good putting rounds. A lot of them came earlier this year. So I'm happy it's back.
“A lot of things go into a 63. I hit a lot of good shots and made a ton of good putts. But I had some lucky bounces, too.”
One came at No. 9, in the midst of a four-birdie streak that began at the seventh hole. He pulled his 7-iron approach shot at 9, but it caught the left slope and kicked all the way right of the flag to set up a 10-foot birdie putt.
His drive at the par-3 15th hole also teetered on the brink of disaster well left of the green, but kicked off a hill and set up a par save.
Pooley finished his round with an even better save as his approach shot from a fairway bunker at No. 18 came up 30 yards short. He hit a flop shot to within 15 feet of the cup and then cashed in on a slick, downhill roll with about three feet of break.
“That was an unbelievable putt,” he said.
In 1986, Pooley followed a 61 at the Phoenix Open with a 66 and said he wouldn't be surprised if he produced another low score today.
“I think you're in a birdie frame of mind,” he said. “I think good scores come in bunches and I know I'll need another one with Watson, Kite and Walter Hill right behind me.”
If Pooley produces anything close to a repeat, Watson figures nobody will have a chance.
“It pretty much depends on what Don does,” Watson said. “He's a good competitor and he has a three-shot lead. I'll be watching the leaderboard. I'll try to keep hitting fairways and hitting quality iron shots and, hopefully, make some darned putts.”
Watson birdied the first three holes, but saw his putter go cold down the stretch. He missed three makeable birdie putts at Nos. 15, 16 and 18 and three-putted for a bogey at the 17th hole.
“That stretch was sort of gut-wrenching considering how well I'm playing from tee to green,” Watson said.
Hall, the 36-hole leader, also opened with three birdies, but failed to take advantage of good approach shots to Nos. 5 and 6 and tailed off to a 1-over 72.