BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — They played the third round of the 75th Senior PGA Championship on Saturday at Harbor Shores and the Tour de France broke out.
Echoing the scoring of the world’s most famous bicycle race, where perhaps it only appears as though all the entrants wind up with the same time after days of competition, as many as eight players shared the lead during the third round of the Senior PGA and, at one point, more than one-quarter of the 78 players to make the cut were within two strokes of the lead.
When the field finally had zipped under the finish line to conclude 54 holes, the co-leaders were two Hall of Famers with a lot in common. Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer were Ryder Cup teammates five times; both were European Ryder Cup captains; and they will have played together all four days at Harbor Shores. On Saturday, Montgomerie, looking for his first win as a senior since turning 50 last June, holed a snaking 30-footer for birdie at the last hole to shoot a 3-under-par 68 and post a 54-hole score of 7-under 206. Langer, the year’s only multiple winner on the Champions Tour, trails by one after a 69.
The three players one stroke back are Bart Bryant, Marco Dawson, whose 64 on Saturday is the best score of the week, and Japan’s Kiyoshi Murota, who has top-5 finishes in two of the last three Senior PGAs. The five players who trail by three include Tom Watson and Jay Haas, both of whom have won the Senior PGA twice.
“If you play with Bernhard Langer four days in a row on the Champions Tour, you’re doing something right,” said Montgomerie, “and, obviously, I am.”
Montgomerie took the lead with a 4-foot birdie putt at the par-5 15th, gave that stroke back with a bogey at the par-3 17th, then made the long birdie at the last.
“I don’t know why the 8-iron went so far,” he said of his approach at the last. “I was in the wrong quadrant of the green, the wrong place. Thank God the hole got in the way.”
Langer made three birdies on his incoming nine to overcome a double bogey at the par-4 seventh, the day’s hardest hole, where he had to play a bunker shot away from the hole after his approach plugged on a steep face.
“I still need to play very aggressive, smart aggressive, as I call it,” said Langer, “take my chances, because Colin is playing very solid golf and there’s a whole bunch of other guys. If any of them post a 6 or 7 under in front of us, then we have our work cut out just to stay in touch.”
Dawson, playing in just his fourth Champions Tour event since turning 50 in November, passed more than 30 players with his 7-under-par 64, a score that was largely the result of several fortuitous bounces off the ridges, mounds and humps that segment Harbor Shores’ immense greens into smaller targets.
“The first two days I got a few (bounces) that kind of went toward the hole, but for the most part they went away from the hole,” Dawson explained. “That’s kind of frustrating, when you hit good shots and they go away from the hole. Today I hit some good shots and some that were OK and they ended up really good. They caught the mounds just right and those ended up close. They weren’t 6-, 8-, 10-footers; they were 2 feet, most of them.”
Also inserting himself into the picture was Kenny Perry, a native Kentuckian trying to earn the automatic berth in August’s PGA Championship in Louisville, Ky., that goes to Sunday’s Senior PGA champion. Perry, the winner of the last three Champions Tour majors in which he’s played — he skipped last year’s Senior British Open because of previous personal commitments — passed 32 players with a bogey-free, 5-under-par 66. He’s tied for 11th place and is five strokes behind.
“At least I have a shot,” said Perry. “At least I shot a number today to put me in some kind of position. Maybe if I shoot one of those miracle rounds tomorrow, I can do it.”
The number Perry probably has in mind is close to 62, a Senior PGA record he set in the fourth round at Harbor Shores two years ago.
“I think what I’m going to need to do is shoot another 62 . . . and that would get me in the ballpark, I think,” he said.
One of the pivotal holes in Sunday’s final round is likely to be the seventh, a photogenic, but often brutal, par 4 that climbs to the top of a dune overlooking Lake Michigan. Of the six players who began Saturday tied for the lead, the group posted one par, four bogeys and a double bogey there. And none of those scores represented the hole’s worst carnage on Saturday; Tom Lehman, the 2010 Senior PGA champion, needed eight strokes just to reach the green and took a 10.