Scotland's Ross Drummond had every reason to smile after his stellar performance Friday. (Photo: The PGA of America)
Unheralded Drummond surprises even himself with 66, halfway lead
Forgive Ross Drummond if he had a deer-in-the-headlights look about him Friday as he left Canterbury Golf Club. When you're biggest career win is the Scottish Professional Championship, leading a major championship can have that effect on a guy. Drummond tied the competitive course record with a 4-under 66 to charge into the lead at the 70th Senior PGA Championship, where he'll attempt to become the event's first European winner since 1947.
By Craig Dolch, Special to PGA.com
BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- If you're surprised to see Ross Drummond leading the 70th Senior PGA Championship at the midway point, you're not alone.
"I felt my game was good enough to make the cut," the man himself admitted. "But I didn't expect to be in or near the lead. I would say, yes, I'm very surprised."
But when Drummond got up-and-down for par from behind the 18th green Friday at Canterbury Golf Club, it completed an unlikely 4-under 66 that put the Scotsman in an even more unlikely place -- atop the leader board.
At 4-under 136, he leads by two shots over five much-more recognizable names: Jeff Sluman (68), Scott Hoch (72), Bernhard Langer (70), Tom Purtzer (72) and Larry Mize (69).
Drummond never won during 20-plus years on the European Tour, admitting he's had to "just squeak by" for most of his career due to his struggles and lack of a sponsor. His biggest moment came off the course, when he was the focus of the book Four iron in the Soul written by Lawrence Donegan, who spent the season caddying for Drummond in 1996.
Fortunately for Drummond, it was his most successful season as he used a pair of top-three finishes to rank 42nd on the tour's money list. But, as has been the case for most of his career, the glow didn't last long.
"The next year I had my worst year," he said. "And then I had to go back to Qualifying School the next four years before I quit trying to play the European Tour."
While Langer, Mize and Sluman have won majors, Drummond's biggest victory came when he won four Scottish Professional Championships in the late 1980s. Asked what a win this week in the oldest major senior championship would mean to him, he reacted as if he was staring at a downhill, 10-foot putt with 3 feet of break.
"To be honest, I don't think I even want to contemplate that," Drummond said. "It would be a dream come true, obviously. It would be an unbelievable achievement, and something to be very proud of. But I don't think I can even contemplate that."
Drummond, 52, admits he's going to have a difficult time coping with the pressure over the weekend as he tries to become the first European winner of the Senior PGA since Jock Hutchison in 1947. Having five proven winners on his heels won't help matters, either.
"There's still a long way to go," Langer said. "It's only halftime."
Sluman had the best round of the five players tied for second place, thanks to three early birdies. By finishing first among the quintet at 138, he'll play in the final group with Drummond and Hoch in the third round.
The first-round co-leaders, Purtzer and Hoch, had their ups and downs Friday. Purtzer birdied his first two holes to take a three-shot lead, but played his final 16 holes in 4 over, including bogeys at the last two holes, to fall out of the final group. Hoch admitted he "yipped three putts" and also struggled with his driver.
"It just wasn't a good day," Hoch said. "But I'm where I can still do something. I still have a good chance as long as I play well. There are a lot of good players out here."
Like Purtzer, most players had a difficult time finishing off their rounds, especially those who finished on the back nine with the devilish 17th and 18th holes. Tom Kite had the early lead at 4 under, but bogeyed three of his last seven holes, including the last two, for a 70 that left him in a seventh-place tie at 1-under 139.
"I'm playing well enough to win, but I just need to finish better," said Kite, who also bogeyed his last hole Thursday. "This is a tricky course. You can't miss a shot on those last two holes or it's really going to cost you."
Among those tied with Kite are Chris Starkjohann (68), the low PGA club professional after 36 holes, and Gil Morgan (68) and Jay Don Blake (69), who both bogeyed their final hole. Blake was fortunate to make bogey after missing the fairway and then blading his third shot over the green into an awkward stance in a bunker. He managed to save bogey by making a 5-footer.
"I didn't want to be in that bunker after I just skulled my previous chip, I can tell you that," Blake said. "That's a hole you can start adding up numbers really quick."
The biggest collapse, surprisingly, may have belonged to crowd favorite Greg Norman. He was 2 under through 15 holes to move into contention, but he skulled his third shot at the par-5 16th out of bounds and made a triple-bogey 8. He finished with a 72 that left him closer to the cut line than the lead.
"C'est la vie," Norman said with a shrug. "What are you going to do?"
Michael Allen, a PGA Tour regular who's making his Champions debut this week after receiving a special exemption from the PGA of America, and Brad Bryant were among the few players to finish without a wobble. Allen had a 66 -- matching Drummond, Purtzer and Hoch for the low competitive round at Canterbury -- and Bryant a 67 to move into an 11th-place tie with Dan Forsman (70) and Mark James (71) at even-par 140.
Among the notables to miss the cut at 6-over 147 were Fuzzy Zoeller (76-148), Jerry Pate (75-148) and Nick Price (75-149).
Now that Drummond has surpassed his first goal of making the cut, now he can try and take aim at the rarified air of contending in a major championship.
"I just need to try and get through (Saturday) and see how things pan out," Drummond said. "And if I'm in a similar position come Sunday, playing well would give me confidence for the round on Sunday. I just got to take it bit by bit."