Michael Allen must contend with 15 players within four shots of his lead. (Martin/Getty Images)
Allen leads by one, but many proven winners still in it
On a sun-splashed Saturday outside Cleveland, only six players finished the third round of the 70th Senior PGA Championship in red numbers. Senior rookie Michael Allen is leading the way at 3 under par, but he has plenty of company on a jam-packed leaderboard.
By Craig Dolch, Special to PGA.com
BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- It's been 20 years since Michael Allen lifted a trophy. Twenty years since he walked off a golf course knowing he was the best player that week.
Allen is now 18 holes away from ending that two-decade drought and tasting victory at the 70th Senior PGA Championship, and he’s very hungry.
Allen fired a 3-under 67 Saturday -- the low round at Canterbury Golf Club for the second consecutive day -- to take a one-shot lead over former major champions Tom Kite and Jeff Sluman into Sunday’s final round of the oldest senior major.
Allen hasn’t been in this position often. Heck, this is the very first time he’s played in a 50-and-over tournament -- he got in thanks to a special invitation from The PGA of America -- after maintaining his playing privileges on the PGA Tour at this advanced stage of his career. But he reasons he’s not only due for a victory, he’s overdue.
“These guys are great players and they have beat me for a long time,” Allen said. “But maybe it is my turn when I'm young now and with a little more experience than when I first came out (on the PGA Tour). This is as good an opportunity as I'm going to have in a long time.”
It won’t come easy. Not only does Allen have to deal with Canterbury’s testing nature, he has to contend with 15 players within four shots of his lead at 3-under 207.
“There are at least a dozen players who can win this thing,” said Tim Simpson, who will start Sunday two shots back, hoping to end a 19-year winless streak of his own.
It’s not as if Allen, whose last victory came at the 1989 Scottish Open at Loch Lomond on the European Tour, can draw on recent experiences as a winner. But, as the cliché goes, the golf ball doesn’t know or care about the resume of the player hitting it.
Allen has scored better than the rest of the field while shooting 66 and 67 the last two days. If he can pull that feat off one more time, he’s ensured of having his name etched on the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy in addition to earning a $360,000 payday.
“I don't buy into that theory that you’ve got to be there a lot (to win),” Allen said. “I feel like I'm playing very well. I feel like I'm in great shape and I'm ready to, you know, move on. I've been ready for a long time. It's about time that I get on with it.”
Kite (69) and Sluman (70) share second place, but little else this week. Kite has displayed his usual consistent ball-striking -- at least until the last two holes, which he has bogeyed each of the last two days.
“Pretty sadistic finish, those last couple of holes,” Kite said. “And obviously it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But I really feel like I'm playing well. I really like the way I'm striking the ball. I’m hitting a lot of greens in regulation, so I really feel good about everything.”
Sluman, by comparison, says he has no idea where his drives are headed, and that’s a bad sign with Canterbury’s deep, almost pitch-out, rough. But there’s only one player in better position entering the final round on a course he likes. Plus, Sluman won twice last year on the Champions Tour, so he has positive vibes as he tries to become the 12th player to win the PGA Championship and the Senior PGA.
“It’s kind of right up my alley,” Sluman said of Canterbury. “But it's not up anybody's alley when you're kind of wild off the tee. If I don't find something between now and tomorrow, it's going to be a tough day for me.”
Simpson, who underwent risky deep-brain surgery four years ago to correct uncontrollable tremors in his left hand, had a 68 to move into a fourth-place tie with Gil Morgan (70) and Larry Mize (71) at 1-under 209.
Bruce Fleisher (69), Joey Sindelar (69) and Jay Don Blake (71) are tied for seventh at 210, with Bernhard Langer (73) headlining six players in a 10th-place tie at 211 that includes Fred Funk (69) and club professional Chris Starkjohann (72).
All these players will be trying to make a move at a layout that doesn’t usually produce that course of action. Only six players are under par after 54 holes.
“If you come here looking for a guy to make 10 birdies,” Simpson said, “you’ve come to the wrong place.”
Allen is just looking to break through after toiling for most of his career -- he holds the record for the most time to successfully get through the PGA Tour’s Q-School (seven times). Sluman says he’s surprised Allen hasn’t had more success.
“Michael's a wonderful player,” Sluman said. “When I look at his golf game and how solidly he strikes it, you kind of always wondered why he didn't win a bunch of tournaments. It shouldn’t be really any surprise (he’s leading), because he’s such a good ball-striker, that this golf course would suit him very well.”
Allen has repeatedly said this week that even if he wins the Senior PGA Championship, he’ll return to the PGA Tour because he’s worked so hard to keep his card at 50. Still, he’s trying to keep this opportunity in perspective.
“If I go to my grave and don’t win, I've still had a great time playing golf every day and I’ve made a great living,” Allen said. “So it's been a win-win no matter what for me. But it certainly is important for me to win.”