BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — Roger Chapman arrived at Harbor Shores this week a virtual unknown.
The highlight of his career was probably a victory in Brazil — a dozen years ago. Even overseas, Chapman is hardly a star. The Englishman plays on the European Senior Tour, which has held only one tournament this year and is pressed for sponsors.
Now Chapman is one round from a surprising victory at the Senior PGA Championship. After shooting a 7-under 64 on Saturday, he’s not only leading, he’s threatening to rout the rest of the field. Chapman leads John Cook by five strokes heading into to what could be a sweltering Sunday finish.
“Hopefully, if all goes well tomorrow, maybe we can attract a few more sponsors and hopefully get our purses up,” Chapman said.
Chapman finished the day at 14-under par. Cook began the round tied with Chapman for the lead, but couldn’t keep pace and settled for a 69 to drop into second place.
“It felt like I shot a hundred compared to Roger,” Cook said. “He played phenomenal. He had it. It was a pleasure to watch.”
Chapman’s 54-hole score of 199 tied the tournament record set by Sam Snead in 1973, although Snead was 17 under when he set the mark.
Steve Pate had a 67 to join 66-year-old Hale Irwin at 7 under. Irwin made a triple bogey on the par-3 fourth, but played well on the back nine and shot 69.
Chapman beat Padraig Harrington in a playoff to win a European Tour event in Brazil in 2000. He has never won on the Champions Tour. He made the cut in all 11 of his Champions Tour starts last year, but didn’t have a top-10 finish.
After leaving the main European Tour, he spent some time as a rules official. He’s playing in the Senior PGA for the fourth time, and his best finish was a tie for 27th last year.
The 53-year-old Chapman tied for 16th a couple weekends ago at the Mallorca Open — the European Senior Tour’s lone event so far this season.
He’ll have one more challenge this weekend. The temperature is expected to reach 90 degrees Sunday, when the final round is played.
Chapman began to pull away from the field on the front nine Saturday. While Irwin was making a six on No. 4, Chapman rolled in his second birdie of the day to move to 9 under.
On the par-5 fifth, Chapman’s second shot went into the rough to the left of the fairway. He calmly pitched out onto the green, giving himself a birdie putt pin high from about 25 feet, which he made.
Even his lone bogey was impressive in its own way. On the par-4 seventh, Chapman’s drive went through the fairway, and he needed two hacks to get the ball out of some tall grass. But he was then able to pitch to within about 10 feet, and he made the putt to prevent further damage.
“It was just one of those days, where I think it’s the best iron play I’ve ever played in my career,” Chapman said. “It was pretty special.”
After making the turn at 9 under, Chapman birdied Nos. 10, 11 and 12 on his way to a 30 on the back nine. He hit several impressive approach shots, leaving himself birdie putts of 3 feet on No. 11 and about a foot on the par-4 14th. He made another 3-foot birdie putt on No. 16, then parred the last two holes.
Irwin shot a 66 on Friday to put himself in contention despite mediocre putting. He would’ve had a similar round Saturday if not for trouble at No. 4.
His tee shot missed to the left, where the green is protected by a wetland area. After going back to the drop zone, Irwin pitched onto the green, but then he three-putted from roughly the same distance as Chapman’s birdie putt.
“I just pulled it,” Irwin said. “I hit up on top of the bank and it rolled down in the water, and went to the drop zone and hit it on and three-putted for a six. It’s pretty easy to do when you stop and think about it, especially the way I’m putting.”
Play was delayed about three hours at the start of the third round on a wet morning. Warmer air is expected to hit Benton Harbor from the south Sunday.