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Jay Don Blake
Jay Don Blake says his game is in top shape and so is his back, which bothered him for his last nine years on the PGA Tour. (Getty Images)

After late stumble, Lehman shares lead with Blake at Senior PGA

While Tom Lehman ended his third round in dramatic fashion Saturday, Jay Don Blake lurked his way up the leaderboard. They're tied for the top spot, with another 15 players within five shots of them.

By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer

PARKER, Colo. – Jay Don Blake is a fighter, almost to a fault.

The 51-year-old from St. George, Utah, picked up his only PGA Tour victory way back in 1991. Through the years, his career has been plagued by back problems, which he attributes to coming back too early following an appendectomy.

It got so bad and so frustrating, he even quit the game for a couple of years.

Blake is a real-life golf version of the Kevin Costner character in the movie “For Love of the Game.”

And don’t ask Blake what his status is on the Champions Tour. Even he doesn’t know. What he does know is that he’s only been able to play in two Champions Tour events this season and both have yielded top-10 finishes.

He also knows that years of frustration and dedication to a game that he gave a lot more to than he got back in return could finally change his life forever. If he can hold it together for one more round, Blake could go from journeyman to major champion.

Blake battled the wind and his emotions in a wild third round of the 71st Senior PGA Championship at Colorado Golf Club on Saturday to shoot a 2-under 70 for a share of the 54-hole lead at 6-under 210 with the far more accomplished Tom Lehman, winner of the 1996 British Open.  

Major champions Mark O’Meara (67) and Fred Couples (75) are two shots behind with Mike Goodes (70) at 4 under, while Dan Forsman (69), Chip Beck (71) and Taiwan’s Chien Soon Lu (73) are three shots off the pace at 3 under.

South Africa’s David Frost recorded a remarkable course-record 7-under 65 in the third round and is among a foursome tied for ninth at 2 under that also includes Nick Price (73) and defending champion Michael Allen (71).

After his round, Blake was asked a simple, fairly standard question: What would a win mean to him? Immediately, he was overcome with emotion, only able to utter, “I know it would bring a lot of tears. It would mean quite a bit.”

Shoot, just the thought of winning nearly brought a lot of tears, as Blake’s eyes filled up like a leaf-clogged gutter. Somehow, he managed to hold the tears back, which in itself was touching seeing as Blake doesn’t strike you as the mushy type.

He looks more race-car driver and less golfer, which is probably no coincidence, seeing as he’s a drag racing aficionado who attended National Hot Rod Association driving school in 1995. But, he admits, something has changed over the last 10 years.

“I never thought I was [an emotional guy],” Blake said, still fighting the tears. “For some reason probably the last 10 years I've been very emotional. I don't know what's changed, but maybe just a comfort in my life.”

There’s no doubt Blake will have to harness those emotions on Sunday as he enters the final round as the heavy underdog.

“I probably won't sleep a whole lot,” Blake said. “A lot of nerves. There will be a lot of thoughts. I’ll try being calm like right now my emotions. I've got my family here with me to support me, so we're going to go give it my best.”

The only other time Blake has ever been this close at a major was 21 years ago in the 1989 U.S. Open at Oak Hill, the first of two straight won by Curtis Strange.

“I actually had the lead for 69 of the holes, the last three holes I finished bogey, double bogey and finished like 14th,” said Blake, who actually tied for 18th that year, but who’s counting? “But I had the lead then, but didn't finish well. You got to finish them off.”

Blake got off to a fabulous start on moving day in Colorado with birdies on the first two holes, but had his work cut out for him when the wind started blowing in a direction none of the competitors had experienced all week – northeast.

“You had to allow for the wind blowing the ball, for the breaks, so it got tough making putts out there,” he said. “And the course played a totally different direction of wind, so we have had every direction so far this whole week.  And it's, it was tough out there today.”

Lehman can attest to that. He had a two-shot lead when he teed it up on the par-3 17th hole. With a 7-iron in hand, Lehman hit it so good he was begging for it to get down. It got down all right and deposited into the front bunker, which contained much heavier sand than Lehman had come across all week. As a result, he left his first shot in the bunker, barely got the second attempt out, chipped on and two-putted for a crushing triple-bogey 6 and instantly went from 2-up to 1-down.

“I really didn't feel like I deserved a 6, but I walked away with a 6 and there you have it,” said Lehman, who managed to bounce back with a 30-footer from the fringe on the 18th hole for birdie and a 1-under 71. “I was not very happy, obviously, to give all my hard work back on one hole.”

Lehman is hungry for a win, too. His last came at the 2009 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, but that was a team victory with Bernhard Langer, so Lehman is still looking for his first solo trophy on the Champions Tour. And would he ever like to make it a major.

“It's exciting, very exciting,” Lehman said. “I look forward to the day tomorrow.  I really like the golf course and I really enjoy playing, it's very creative.  So to play a course like this that you enjoy, having a chance to win a major is a great opportunity. … If I play a good round tomorrow, somebody's got to play a great round tomorrow to beat me.  And if Jay Don plays a good round, somebody's got to play a great round to beat him.  That's the nice thing about leading it, is it's kind of in your control.”

Lehman will be focused on winning, but is happy to see Blake doing so well.

“Look, it's nice to see the good guys do well,” he said “And Jay Don Blake is one of the good guys.  So to see him play well just feels good. To have to overcome stuff and to kind of get back to where you want to be, that takes a lot of courage.  And it takes a great amount of support from your family and I'm sure he has that.  So yeah, if all the people were like Jay Don, the world would be a lot better place.”
 
While Blake would be an unlikely Senior PGA Champion, his demeanor suggests he’d be a popular one.
 

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