By Bob Denney, Dave Senko and John Kim
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Hale Irwin and Kiyoshi Murota share the 54-hole lead at the 2011 Senior PGA Championship Presented by KitchenAid. The pair stands at 9-under-par 207. Tom Watson, who won this event 10 years ago at Ridgewood Country Club, shot a 4-under-par 68 to move within one shot of the lead. Trevor Dodds rebounded from a second-round 75 with a 5-under-par 67 and is fourth, two behind Irwin and Murota. Irwin led by two strokes heading to No. 18, but three-putted for a double bogey to fall back into a tie for the lead.
FINAL-ROUND START: The final round of the 72nd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid will begin Sunday at 7:35 a.m. The final twosome of Hale Irwin and Kiyoshi Murota tee off at 1:35 p.m. All groups will tee off on the first hole.
OLD AND BOLD: Hale Irwin is bidding to become the oldest winner of a Champions Tour event at 65 years, 11 months, 26 days. Mike Fetchick is currently the oldest at 63 years to the day. He won the 1985 Hilton Head Seniors Invitational. As a point of reference, Neil Coles, a competitor on the European Senior Tour, won an event on that Tour at 67 years, 276 days (2002 Lawrence Batley Seniors Open).
LAST TIME LED: The last time Irwin led or shared the lead heading into the final round was in September, 2007 when he was tied for the lead after 36 holes with Des Smyth and Gil Morgan at the Wal-Mart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach. He eventually finished second. The last time he led or shared the lead in a major championship was at the 2005 Ford Senior Players Championship where he led and finished second, one behind Peter Jacobsen.
EASTERN PROMISE: Should Kiyoshi Murota prevail on Sunday, he would become just the second player from Japan to win a senior event in the United States. World Golf Hall of Famer Isao Aoki won nine times on the Champions Tour.
DOUBLE, CHECK: The winner will receive a check for $360,000 as well as double points (720 points) in the Champions Tour’s season-long Charles Schwab Cup race. Tom Lehman holds a comfortable lead in both races. He has 1,432 points in the Charles Schwab Cup race and leads Nick Price by 734 points. Lehman also holds a $468,652 margin on Price in the money race.
GOING LIKE 60: Tom Watson could add his name to the list of players age 60 or better to win a Champions Tour event for a second time on Sunday. He trails Irwin and Murota by just one stroke. Watson won the 2010 Mitsubishi Electric Championship at age 60 years, 4 months and 20 days. Irwin also owns two victories since turning 60. He is the last 60-year-old to win an event.
SIX SHOOTER: Defending champion Tom Lehman ran off six straight birdies in his round on Saturday, the longest streak in that category on the Champions Tour in 2011.
HEY NINETEEN: Just 19 players finished with rounds below par compared to 35 in the second round.
TOUGHEST HOLE: No. 16 remains the most difficult hole with an average score of 4.52. The easiest hole has been No. 7 with an average score of 4.72.
JIM DANDY: Jim Woodward is the leader among the 12 remaining club professionals. He is currently T27 heading into Sunday’s final round.
NEED A FOURTH?: Should there be a playoff on Sunday, it will be the fourth consecutive one on the Champions Tour this year. The last time there were four straight playoffs was in 2005, the first of those was at the Senior PGA Championship at Laurel Valley, when Mike Reid defeated Dana Quigley and Jerry Pate.
TWO TURNING POINTS: The first turning point in the third round came at the par-4 12th hole, where Kiyoshi Murota made double bogey and Hale Irwin made par. That gave Irwin a two-stroke lead and meant that Murota did not have the outright lead or a share of the lead for the first time in the Championship. The second occurred on the 18th hole, when Irwin made double bogey and Murota made par, thus forcing a tie between the two players heading into the final round.
LONGEST TIME BETWEEN TITLES: Should Hale Irwin earn his fifth Senior PGA Championship title, he would do so seven years after his last victory in the Championship. Jock Hutchison, winner of the first Senior PGA Championship in 1937, holds the record of most years between victories, with 10.
WHAT MIGHT BE: With a victory Sunday, Hale Irwin would become the oldest winner of a senior professional tournament in the history of golf in the United States and the first player to win the Senior PGA Championship in three different decades. With a victory, Tom Watson would be the second-oldest winner of the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid.
WHEN LESS IS MORE: Defending champion Tom Lehman continued to improve on his scores and put himself in contention after three rounds. Lehman, who opened with 73 and followed with 70, shot 68 on Saturday to improve to 5 under par. He is tied for sixth, four shots out of the lead.
BEST OF THE DAY: Trevor Dodds and Jeff Sluman each shot 67 to share the low score in the third round. Dodds, who opened the Championship with 67, is fourth at 7 under par, two out of the lead. Sluman, the 1988 PGA Champion, is 2 under par and tied for 16th.
THIRD ROUND BY THE NUMBERS:
13: Number of players within five strokes of the lead after the third round
18: Number of major championships won by those among the Top 13 players on the leader board (3 by Hale Irwin, 8 by Tom Watson, 3 by Nick Price, 1 by Tom Lehman, 2 by Mark O'Meara and 1 by Mark Calcavecchia)
25: Number of players under par after the third round
26: Number of players at par or better after the third round
136: Number of birdies on the par-5 seventh hole, the most birdies of any hole through three rounds
146: Number of bogeys on the par-4 sixth hole, the most bogeys of any hole through three rounds
Tom Lehman on his six-birdie streak:
“I hit it close a lot. I hit it about six feet on 9 with a 7-iron and made it. Hit it about six feet on 10 with a sand wedge and made it. About eight feet on 11 with a 7-iron and made it. About six feet on the next hole with a 7-iron and made it. Three feet on the next hole and made it. And then hit it about a foot on the par 3. So I just hit it really really good for a whole stretch of holes there. The holes leading up to it, I hit it close for eagle on 7 and hit a great putt that lipped out. Hit it close on 8 and hit a great putt that missed there too. So I had, from about the 7th hole through about the 15th hole, it was just as good as I can play.”
Jeff Sluman on the playing conditions:
“I must admit when I heard we were playing it down I thought it was a big mistake. And the golf course was playable. We certainly all had a little bit of mud on it, but it wasn't the type of mud that I expected, so I was wrong and they were right.”
Ken Martin, PGA Club Professional:
“Well, it's fabulous to be here. Absolutely fabulous to make the cut and I made that right on the number, so that was pretty cool. First Major Championship. I'm playing the weekend. Disappointed that I hit it out of position, but I'm just thrilled to be here. Absolutely.”
Kiyoshi Murota on playing with two legends of golf on Sunday:
“I'm happy. I didn't do too well today. My putting had left something to be desired. But tomorrow is another day. I'm going to play the game of golf my own way. I don't care who is playing with me or before me or after me, I'm going to play Murota game, Murota golf.
Kiyoshi Murota on playing more in the United States:
“I have no plan to really spend much time participating in different golf tournaments in the United States because of my family obligations. I can ill afford to be away from my family for the long length of time. Much to my regret.”
Hale Irwin to media members at start of press conference referencing double bogey on final hole:
“Go for the gore, right? Forget about the two shots that got me in the right position to hit the wrong club.”
Hale Irwin on why he still plays golf:
“I don't know what retire means. Anybody retired in here?”