ALDIE, Va. -- Jim Woodward erased memories of past tours of Creighton Farms, turning in a 6-under-par 66 to match the competitive course record and grab the 54-hole lead Saturday in the 24th Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship presented by Mercedes-Benz USA.
The 55-year-old Woodward owns a 54-hole total of 2-under-par 214 and a two-stroke margin over Mike Lawrence of Anderson, S.C., who closed with a 71, and second-round co-leader Bob Gaus of St. Louis, who struggled with bogeys on two of his final three holes for a 74.
After posting a second-round 81 a year ago to miss the cut, then salting the wound with an opening-round 78 this year, Woodward decided he would not throw up his hands in frustration and "try to have fun" on the challenging Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course.
His simple game plan worked to near perfection as the PGA teaching professional at Oak Tree National Golf Club in Edmond, Okla., made eight birdies to offset a pair of bogeys for the lowest round of the week. He also said that he closed what may be the finest round of his career.
Seventy-five other competitors may concur, as Creighton Farms yielded an overall scoring average of 77, the lowest scoring mark of the week.
"I'm still trying to figure out how the heck I did it," said Woodward, who made his fifth Championship appearance.
Woodward charged out with a five-birdie front side, taking just 21 putts overall and salvaging par twice with solid recovery shots on the second and 18th holes. He stands as the only player in the field under par.
The low 35 scorers after Sunday's final round advance to the 74th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid next May at historic Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.
"I went out today and said, 'You know what? I'm just not going to try," said Woodward. "I'm going to go out and try to enjoy this golf course, because it hasn't been very good to me. I got off to a fantastic start and I got some really good breaks."
Woodward hit his approach into a creek on the second hole, but discovered that his ball did not sink deeper into the hazard, allowing him to get up and down for par. He bogeyed the 10th and 15th holes, despite being in the fairway with wedges in his hands. Both approaches found greenside bunkers and Woodward nearly made both par putts.
The 549-yard, par-5 18th has had its spell on Woodward over his previous two competitive rounds. Again, he followed his game plan and wasn't rattled when his second shot was sprayed into the right rough.
"I cannot figure out how to play that hole, but I just hacked it out of the junk up near the green and somehow made a par," said Woodward, whose punch shot came to rest 20 feet below the flagstick on the fringe. He finished by two-putting for par.
Woodward's longest birdie putt of the day was from 15 feet, further proof of his artistry. "Judging how bad I play this golf course, and how bad an attitude that I had about this golf course, I would rank it one of my best rounds ever," he said.
Despite bogeys at 16 and 17, Bob Gaus was pleased with his position going into Sunday's final round.
"I am only two shots out of the lead and I can't be mad about that," said Gaus, who tied for 45th in his Championship debut last year. "If I made a few more putts -- and I had chances -- I would be right there with Jim [Woodward] for the lead."
Gaus said that he began the week with a goal of playing next spring in his hometown of St. Louis in the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid. He is in good position to punch his ticket to the oldest and most prestigious major championship in senior golf.
"The goal has always been the top 35 and I have given myself a cushion," said Gaus. "I am going to go out there to try and win it tomorrow, but I am not going to do anything stupid that's for sure."
Defending Champion Kirk Hanefeld of Acton, Mass., with a 73, and 2009 Champion Bill Britton of Colts Neck, N.J., who had a 76, were part of a trio that are three strokes off the pace at 217.
Begun in 1989, the Senior PGA Professional National Championship is modeled after the PGA Professional National Championship, with a field of 50-and-older senior PGA Professionals who advanced through 41 Section Championships conducted from July through September each year.
The top five finishers earn an exemption into the final stage of the 2012 Champions Tour National Finals. Since its debut, many participants in the Senior PGA Professional National Championship have used their success in the event as a springboard to a Champions Tour career.
Jim Woodward, Edmond, Okla. 78-70-66--214
Mike Lawrence, Anderson, S.C. 70-75-71--216
Bob Gaus, St. Louis, Mo. 69-73-74--216
Kirk Hanefeld, Acton, Mass. 70-74-73--217
Steve Parker, Houston, Texas 70-72-75--217
Bill Britton, Colts Neck, N.J. 71-70-76--217
Greg Baker, Boonton, N.J. 72-73-73--218
Charlie Bolling, Glen Cove, N.Y. 72-69-77--218
Mike Miles, Huntington Beach, Calif. 70-77-72--219
James Blair, Ogden, Utah 71-73-75--219
Sonny Skinner, Sylvester, Ga. 71-71-77--219
Jeff Coston, Blaine, Wash. 74-72-74--220
James Kane, Edmond, Okla. 75-74-72--221
Shawn McEntee, Petaluma, Calif. 74-75-72--221
Dal Daily, Albuquerque, N.M. 74-74-73--221
Eddie Terasa, Waukesha, Wis. 70-72-79--221
Michael Mitchell, Rancho Mirage, Calif. 74-75-73--222
Bud Lintelman, Purcellville, Va. 73-77-72--222
Chris Dachisen, Warren, N.J. 75-73-74--222
Bob Wolcott, Tunica Resorts, Miss. 73-75-74--222
Chris Starkjohann, Oceanside, Calif. 71-76-75--222
JC Anderson, O'Fallon, Mo. 77-74-71--222
Paul Trittler, Scottsdale, Ariz. 73-75-75--223
Ron Skayhan, Huntington Beach, Calif. 74-76-73--223
Rick Karbowski, Worcester, Mass. 74-74-75--223
Jim Empey, Boise, Idaho 72-78-73--223
Stuart Smith, Reno, Nev. 73-74-76--223
Robert Thompson, Huntsville, Texas 72-74-77--223
Carl Cooper, Humble, Texas 70-75-78--223
Don Sweeting, Pinehurst, N.C. 74-75-75--224
Tom Sutter, Mount Vernon, N.Y. 76-75-73--224
David Young, Scarborough, N.Y. 74-77-73--224
Lee Rinker, Jupiter, Fla. 71-78-76--225
Jeff Whitfield, Weldon Spring, Mo. 76-73-76--225
Ralph Salito, Sherman, Conn. 74-75-76--225
Ed Sabo, Tequesta, Fla. 75-74-76--225
Gene Fieger, Naples, Fla. 74-76-75--225
Scott Spence, Galena, Ohio 74-74-77--225
Gary Robison, Canton, Ohio 70-78-77--225
Fran Marrello, Plymouth, Conn. 75-74-77--226
George Forster, Villanova, Pa. 75-76-75--226
Don Berry, Brooklyn Park, Minn. 78-73-75--226
Mark Mielke, East Norwich, N.Y. 70-79-78--227
Bruce Nakamura, Vista, Calif. 69-79-79--227
Barry Evans, Charleston, W. Va. 76-72-79--227
Roy Vucinich, Moon Township, Pa. 74-77-76--227
Joe Butler, Burlington, Iowa 73-78-76--227
Billy Sitton, Houston, Texas 76-73-79--228
Joey Carranza, Fall City, Wash. 74-75-79--228
Jeff Thomsen, Boise, Idaho 75-76-77--228
Quinn Griffing, Fort Wayne, Ind. 71-75-82--228
Rod Nuckolls, Wichita, Kan. 70-81-77--228
Perry Arthur, Plano, Texas 76-73-80--229
Nash Haxel, St. Louis, Mo. 76-75-78--229
Audie Johnson, Lebanon, Tenn. 73-74-82--229
William Dodd, Jr., Phoenix, Ariz. 77-74-78--229
Jerry Tucker, Stuart, Fla. 77-74-78--229
John Carney, Hoover, Ala. 71-78-81--230
Chris Tucker, Fort Mill, S.C. 75-75-80--230
Freddy Gibson, Orlando, Fla. 72-78-80--230
Tim Parun, San Diego, Calif. 73-77-80--230
Tommy Brannen, Augusta, Ga. 75-75-80--230
Ralph West, Surprise, Ariz. 78-73-79--230
Rob Phelps, Fayetteville, N.Y. 72-78-81--231
Mike San Filippo, Hobe Sound, Fla. 72-78-81--231
Mitch Adams, Troy, N.C. 71-77-83--231
Peter Oakley, Palm City, Fla. 71-77-83--231
Ron Beurmann, Jackson, Mich. 71-80-80--231
Bill Loeffler, Littleton, Colo. 74-77-80--231
Bobby Hogan, Tonawanda, N.Y. 77-74-80--231
Steve Veriato, San Marcos, Texas 74-75-83--232
Billy Rosinia, Indian Head Park, Ill. 72-79-81--232
Gary Groh, Highland Park, Ill. 71-76-85--232
Bob Ford, Oakmont, Pa. 75-76-82--233
Leigh Brannan, Canton, Miss. 75-75-84--234
Bill Stines, Columbus, Ohio 75-76-91--242