KETTERING, Ohio - A young Craig Stadler would have blown a gasket. He would have spewed lava all over the green. Clean-up on aisle 13.
But the older Craig Stadler, a kinder and gentler Walrus, managed to keep it together yesterday and enters today's final round of the U.S. Senior Open tied with Loren Roberts for the lead.
Both carded 2-under 69s yesterday, but the way Stadler did it was remarkable. He had just one par on the back nine.
"That isn't ideal, but fortunately there was more good than bad," Stadler said.
Roberts, who led by three shots over much of the back nine, and Stadler are at 11-under-par 202 after 54 holes. The ageless Raymond Floyd (69) and D.A. Weibring (68) are three shots behind while Ireland's Des Smyth (70) and Tom Watson (73), who had a four-putt from eight feet at No. 6, are another stroke off at 7-under. Greg Norman, who carded a 69, is alone at 6-under.
Roberts struck gold on the par-5 10th hole after missing the fairway and being forced to lay up 70 yards short of the green. His ensuing sand wedge shot was perfect. It checked up inches behind the hole, then spun back into the cup for an eagle.
Still, with a birdie at the 11th hole, Stadler stayed within a shot of Roberts' lead.
Then the bottom seemed to fall out.
At No. 12, Stadler drove into the rough, chopped it out into more rough short of the green, hit one shot over the green and another well past the cup. It added up to a double-bogey.
Then he bogeyed the next hole with a three-putt from 40 feet, missing a six-footer for par.
"I got a little [ticked] off," Stadler said.
Yet he turned it around and birdied four of the last five holes to forge the tie.
How did a guy who used to angrily bury clubs in the ground, kick his putter and loose an occasional curse manage to keep his act together?
"I don't know," he said. "That's something new to me. It never used to be that way.
"I guess managing yourself around a golf course is something you learn over time. You know, it was very hard for me when I was young. I wanted to go out and hit it a mile and just birdie every hole. When I made bogey, it set me off for two, three, four holes sometimes.
"I guess we mellow out as we get older and I guess I've handled it better the last 10 or 12 years. But it still bothers me to no end to three-putt.
That's as bad as it gets for me. I can scrape it around, hit trees and make Xs, but when I three-putt that really gets under my skin.
"So what happened? I three-putted [No.] 13 and that started a run of four out of five birdies. I guess it's 'enough is enough' and you get it over with and go on."
He got on with a wedge shot to eight feet at No. 14, a 3-iron to about 10 feet at the 15th hole, a sand wedge to 10 feet past the hole at 17, and then a splendid 7-iron shot from 153 yards out of a fairway bunker to within four feet at the last hole.
Stadler will be gunning for just his second USGA victory ever today. The first came in the 1973 U.S. Amateur at Toledo's Inverness Club.
Roberts has never won a major title, but has six top-10 major finishes including a tie for second in the '94 U.S. Open at Oakmont. He and Colin Montgomerie lost to Ernie Els in an 18-hole playoff.
Roberts led by three shots with two to play, but he scored a bogey at No. 17 while Stadler was finishing with a flourish.
It turns out that Roberts had to deal with more than toughening Open conditions and birdies and bogeys.
He disclosed yesterday that after an opening-round 66 he was taken to a local hospital emergency room at about 11 o'clock Thursday night because of a kidney stone attack. It passed at about 3 Friday morning, he got to bed at 3:30 and was awake at 5:30 to get ready for his early tee time in the second round.
He shot 67 Friday to go along with yesterday's 69.
"I'm suffering with a bad cold, too," he said. "But I got some cough syrup with codeine, so I should sleep pretty well."
And he can sleep late, too. He and Stadler go off the first tee this afternoon at 2:15.
Contact Dave Hackenberg at: email@example.com or 419-724-6398.
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