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T.J.'s Take: Many questions remain
That's the way Tom Purtzer, the 36-hole leader at even-par 140 in the 69th Senior PGA Championship after a second-round 3-under-par 69 on Friday, described the conditions players are facing at Oak Hill Country Club.
But make no mistake, Purtzer's not complaining as he sits one shot clear of his good friend and 2006 Senior PGA Champion Jay Haas, as well as Japan's Massy Kuramoto at the midway point.
"Usually the PGA is friendlier to us than the USGA, but not this week," joked Purtzer, who birdied No. 9, his last hole of the day, for the lead. "I mean, it's really brutal and I just feel fortunate to be here. Obviously everybody's got two rounds left to play, a lot of things can happen. But I feel pretty good about what I'm doing. So we'll just see what happens."
There won't be much slip-up room for the 56-year-old Purtzer. Aside from Haas and Kuramoto, major champions Mark O'Meara and Bernhard Langer are just two behind, while hometown favorite Jeff Sluman is three back at 3 over.
So what are we to make of this puzzling leaderboard that has more questions than answers? There are 19 players -- Tim Simpson (4 over), Joey Sindelar, Bruce Fleisher, Andy Bean, Craig Stadler, Greg Norman and Scott Hoch (all at 5 over) included -- within five shots of the lead, which means it's sure to be a shootout on the weekend.
Scoring has been nearly impossible thus far. There have only been eight sub-par rounds through 36 holes, with seven of those coming in the second round. A staggering 84 players made the cut, which fell at an eye-popping 12 over par -- the highest cut since 13 over at PGA National in 1990.
"I remember my first venture into major championship golf 30 years ago, 25 years ago, and the cuts were high -- 7, 8, 9 10 over par," Haas said. "That to me is championship golf."
Purtzer's remarkable play came as somewhat of a surprise, even to him. In 11 starts on the Champions Tour this season, Purtzer's best finish was a solo fifth at the season-opening MasterCard Championship. And in his last five starts, there aren't any finishes that truly jump out at you.
"He's one of my best buddies out here," Haas said of Purtzer. "I saw him in front of me and it looked like he was really playing well. By his own admission I think he'd say he hasn't played that well recently, but he went to see Butch [Harmon] a few weeks ago and it looks to me like he's going to hit a good shot every time. It's a beautiful swing he has."
"I feel like this is the first time all year that my swing has felt comfortable," said Purtzer, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour and four-time Champions Tour winner. "So I'm cautiously optimistic about the weekend."
With weather conditions expected to be better on the weekend -- warmer temperatures and little wind -- could Oak Hill be more scoreable? Possibly, but so much depends on keeping the ball in the fairway with the rough spelling big-time trouble.
"Somebody spread the rumor that they cut the rough today," Haas said. "I don't think they did. I won't say it's too tough, but you can't get many balls on the green from the rough."
And that's why you've got to look out for Purtzer. Of the 153 players who completed two rounds, Purtzer ranked fifth in driving distance, 118th in fairways hit, seventh in greens in regulation and 20th in putts.
So if Oak Hill truly is "borderline too tough," with its tight fairways and menacing rough, how is it that the man who finds himself atop the pack as the unlikely leader has hit less than half of his fairways (42.9 percent)?
"It's hard to make par if you miss the fairway," Purtzer said.
Indeed it is, but he's cracked the code so far.
WHAT A TURNAROUND: He didn't make the cut, but nonetheless Mankato (Minn.) Golf Club's PGA Head Professional Michael Zinni can leave Oak Hill with his head held high.
After 36 holes, the 59-year-old Zinni sat at 16-over-par 156. So what's the big deal, you ask?
He had to know his chances of making the cut were slim to none after Thursday's 14-over-par 84, but plugged away on Friday and was an amazing 12 shots better in the second round with a 2-over-par 72.
QUOTE OF THE DAY I: "Over par is going to win this golf tournament. And so it's just a matter of time." -- 2001 Senior PGA Champion Tom Watson, speaking to the difficulty of Oak Hill after finishing his first 36 holes at 7-over-par 147 after a 1-under 69 on Friday
QUOTE OF THE DAY II: "He called me last night and says, 'hey, Dad,' and I said, 'what?' He says, 'you got the Christmas tree on your scorecard.' Because I had all the beautiful colors, you know [five birdies, seven birdies, two bogeys, three double bogeys and a triple bogey]. Yeah, yeah, it was a Christmas tree, all right. He says, 'you were playing like me, that's what I usually do, make doubles and triples, you're yelling at me all the time.' I said, 'well, I guess I should be able to take it, but the only difference is, I made three doubles and a triple and I still shot 76. You make those kinds of numbers and you shoot 83.'" -- Mark O'Meara, sharing a conversation he had with his 18-year-old son, Shaun, following Thursday's 76, which O'Meara backed up with a tournament-best 4-under 66 on Friday
ROUND OF THE DAY I: Mark O'Meara set the standard for the 69th Senior PGA Championship with his magnificent 4-under-par 66 on Friday. Scores were certainly lower in the second round than they were in the first, when Jay Haas was the only player to record an under-par round. But O'Meara went low early and didn't experience the severe ups and downs like he did on Thursday.
ROUND OF THE DAY II: Bruce Fleisher's 3-under-par 67. After struggling dearly in the first round with a birdie-less 8-over-par 78, the 59-year-old, 18-time Champions Tour winner was 11 shots better on Friday.
"I think that I'm in good position. And I'm just glad to be playing," he said. "It's not life and death. You know, I've been there, I've done this. I'm enjoying the ride, enjoying the people, but it's not as important as you think it is. But I'm going to do the best Bruce Fleisher can do and really right now what I'm trying to do is just get the game back in shape, because I haven't been playing that well. I haven't been playing well of late. So this could be a jump start. But again, you know, it's nice to get one under my belt."
SHOT OF THE DAY: Greg Norman from the rough and behind a greenside bunker on No. 14 -- his fifth hole of the day. With the ball nearly completely buried in the rough, Norman deftly hit a controlled pitch to within three feet of the hole to set up what would be his first birdie of the day on the short, 323-yard par 4.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH ON SATURDAY
1. The weather...again. It only gets better from here on out, which the competitors love to hear. The rain, the cool temperatures and the wind have moved through the area, and Saturday should be splendid with sunny skies and highs reaching near 70 degrees with virtually no significant wind to speak of.
2. Lower scores. Sure, the warmer temperatures and sunshine will likely mean a firmer course, but dealing with a minimal amount of wind should make the greens at Oak Hill more accessible. If the greens are more accessible there are more chances for birdie. Plus, it's Moving Day. They'll play smart, but players will probably be more aggressive than they were the first two days in hopes of positioning themselves for the final round.
3. Jeff Sluman. He's the hometown guy and the spectators have shown their love. Sluman struggled a bit in the second round with a 3-over-par 73, but took his medicine and has himself positioned beautifully for a weekend charge at 3 over for the tournament, three strokes behind leader Tom Purtzer.