By Marino Parascenzo, Special to PGA.com
LIGONIER, Pa. -- The rains hit Laurel Valley again Saturday -- and again and again, leaving players in the Senior PGA Championship slugging away in heavy showers and chasing them back and forth across the course.
"It was," said Darrell Kestner, "an endurance test."
But Kestner, the PGA head professional at Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, N.Y., not only endured, he prospered, shooting a 1-under-par 71. He was the leading club professional among the five of the nine who finished their rounds before play was suspended for the day at 6:30 p.m. ET And it's been a promising performance.
Kestner has improved each day, shooting 75-74-71. His 4-over 220 total was two better than Oakmont professional Bob Ford. Chuck Milne, a golf range operator from Vancouver, and Firestone Country Club director of golf Gary Robison were at 223, and Bobby Heins, the head professional at Old Oaks CC at Purchase, N.Y., was at 226.
"You had to stay patient," Kestner said. But a little spice doesn't hurt, as in holing a 30-foot bunker shot for a birdie at the 13th, one of his five birdies. The other wasn't quite as spicy, but it would do. It came at the dogleg, par-5 18th, where he laid up short of the big pond, flipped a wedge to 2 feet, and holed the putt.
Gary Robison, the director of golf at Firestone, had a reputation to live up to. He's a nine-time Northern Ohio Section player of the year and the 2004 Ohio Senior Open champ. It wouldn't do at all to cave in to a run of three bogeys from the 11th, what with missing the green, three-putting and hitting into bunkers.
"If you start making bogeys, you can make bogey after bogey," said Robison, and reminding himself of that truth, he pulled out of the spin with a birdie at the par-3 14th, on a 2-foot putt. But a bogey at the 16th left him with a second straight 75.
Milne birdied the par-5 11th on a wedge to 8 feet and the 14th after he leaned on an 8-iron to 15 feet and shot 74. But for him, happiness was relative.
"Three birdies for the week just isn't going to cut it," he said. "But I'm just pleased to be here."
Oakmont's Ford said it with a shrug. "It's getting to be an old story," he said, after his third consecutive 74 Saturday. "I guess I'm a 2-handicapper out here.
"I'm not happy with my score. Sure, I know I could shoot a whole lot worse, but we all want to shoot better. But I'm still not happy with my game."
The big hurt came in the middle stretch -- bogeys at Nos. 8, 10 and 11. Then after birdies at the 13th and 16th came the most painful cut of all, a bogey at the 17th after he lipped out a 2-footer for par. "Terrible -- unbelieveable," Ford said.
But he made a smooth finish at the par-5 8th, laying up smartly and flipping an approach to 12 feet. "But it looked like 42," Ford said. He got down in two putts for his third straight par at the dangerous hole, and his third straight 74. What would be a good score on Sunday? someone wondered.
"Well, 66 would be a nice number," Ford said.