SAUCIER, Miss. – When Tom Lehman’s destruction of the back nine at Fallen Oak was complete, all Jeff Sluman could do was grin and give a humorous bow to Lehman as he walked by.
“He definitely had the mojo,” Sluman said.
Lehman broke the course record by shooting an 8-under 64 on Saturday, taking a one stroke lead over Sluman into the final round of the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic, a second-year Champions Tour event. Lehmen shot a blistering 7 under on the back nine, including five birdies in a row that started with a 35-foot putt on No. 12 after a slow start.
He capped the hot streak on No. 18, chipping in from the bunker for his sixth birdie in seven holes. The 45-foot shot was the one that inspired Sluman’s impromptu homage.
“I had a perfect lie in the bunker and all kinds of green to work with – kind of down the hill to the hole,” Lehman said. “It was one of the easier bunker shots you’re ever going to get, and it went in.”
Lehman is 13 under for the tournament.
“Good scores always sneak up on you,” Lehman said. “You just get in that groove where you’re playing good golf and just trying to make birdies.”
Sluman shot a bogey-free 66 for the second straight day, getting off to a good start with an eagle on the first hole. After a good drive, he drilled a nearly perfect approach with his 3-iron to within an inch, almost making the first double eagle of his career.
Sluman, who started Saturday’s round with a one-stroke lead, has just one bogey over his last 84 holes, and has shot par or better in 23 straight rounds dating back to last season.
“I’m hitting the ball extremely well,” Sluman said. “I don’t really judge it or measure it by anything. I just know I feel pretty comfortable over the ball.”
But it wasn’t enough to keep pace with Lehman, who leads the Charles Schwab Cup standings and won the Allianz Championship in February. The final threesome of Lehman, Sluman and David Frost shot a combined 19 under for the day.
Lehman said the early pressure from Sluman and Frost helped spur his good play. The three will be together again for Sunday’s final round.
“I kind of got into a situation where they were playing great and I needed to make something happen,” Lehman said.
Frost is in third place after shooting 67, four shots behind Lehman at 9 under for the tournament. Six players – Mark Calcavecchia, John Morse, Mark O’Meara, Steve Lowery, Jay Haas and Nick Price – are tied for fourth at 7 under.
Another day of bright sunshine and 80-degree temperatures meant low scores were the norm. Several players jumped up the leaderboard with 25 shooting a 68 or better.
There were still difficult spots on the course, including the 18th, which was once again treacherous. Tom Kite needed a par on the final hole to shoot 7 under for the day, but instead made double bogey after driving into a sand trap and hitting the next shot into the spectator area lining the right side of the fairway.
Kite finished with a 67, but is still well behind the leaders at 3 under for the tournament. He also missed short birdie putts on the 16th and 17th holes, adding to the frustration.
“I turned a 61 or 62 into a 67 today. That’s what sticks with you,” Kite said. “I played some good golf today and had a chance to get back in the tournament, but I couldn’t do it.”
More warm temperatures and sunshine are forecast for Sunday, but so is some increased wind, which should limit the low scores. Lehman’s 64 broke the previous course record of 66 that was tied by Sluman on Friday.
“That will make this golf course play extremely difficult and you’ll have to hit a lot of different shots out there,” Sluman said.