PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – There are no style points in golf, which is essentially Gene Fieger’s playbook. It’s the end result that has his attention.
The Assistant PGA Professional at The Club Pelican Bay in Naples, Florida, didn’t feel his best but grinded his way to a 3-under-par 69 Saturday on the Wanamaker Course at PGA Golf Club. He collected six birdies, a pair of bogeys and just to make things interesting manufactured a stellar par-save on the 18th hole.
Fieger’s dramatics opened a two-stroke lead over Jeff Roth of Farmington, New Mexico, with a host of other challengers in the 28th Senior PGA Professional Championship presented by Golf Advisor and Mercedes-Benz USA.
Fieger, 54, owns a 54-hole total of 13-under-par 203, a slight cushion for the 2013 Senior PGA Professional Champion over Roth, the 1993 PGA Professional Champion, who bogeyed the final hole for a 2-under-par 70 and 205 total.
“I didn’t have a very good tee shot, it’s so hard,” said Fieger of his closing hole. “You can’t hit it into the left bunker and when I hit it there it ended up plugged outside the waste area. I got a free drop but ended up chipping it out sideways.”
From there, Fieger hit a 140-yard 9-iron approach to five feet and rolled home his par putt.
“I didn’t play that good but finished good,” said Fieger. “Parring 18 was like half of a birdie.”
The Championship’s first and second round leader, Lee Houtteman, struggled to find a rhythm on Saturday as he finished with an even-par 72. He got off to a quick start with eagle on 1 and birdie on 2, but dropped three strokes between holes 7 and 9 to make the turn at even-par for the round. A birdie on 16 was soon followed with a bogey on 18, leaving the 55-year-old from Glen Arbor, Michigan, three strokes behind Fieger heading into the final round.
“Hell of a start. I didn’t feel too good after that,” said Houtteman. “I felt like I was hitting it well, but a couple drives got away from me on the front. I did a good job to shoot even-par on the back nine.
“All in all I’m still in it. It’s a great opportunity to do something really special.”
Mike Northern of Colorado Springs, Colorado, who turned in the day’s best round of 66, heads a trio at 206 that features 1995 PGA Professional Champion Steve Schneiter of Sandy, Utah (69); and Houtteman. Bill Britton of Colts Neck, New Jersey, the 2009 Senior PGA Professional Champion (68); George Forster of Villanova, Pennsylvania (68) and Don Berry of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota (71), were another stroke back at 207.
The $300,000 Championship concludes Sunday.
“It going to be a shootout tomorrow,” said Fieger.
With his par save, Fieger managed to sleep on the lead. He began the third round tied with Houtteman, before Roth made his run to the top with three front-nine birdies before running out of steam with a bogey at 10 and 18.
Fieger collected two birdies and a pair of bogeys on the front side, but rebounded with birdies on 13 and 15 and the par-5 16th hole to overtake Roth.
Roth is a 59-year-old PGA Head Professional at San Juan Country Club in Farmington, New Mexico. “It was a really solid front nine. I made birdie on both par-5s,” said Roth. “I hit the first green in two and had a nice up-and-down from the greenside bunker on 7 to two feet. I had a tough start to the back with a bogey and then I didn’t make birdie on 13 and Gene did. That’s where the separation occurred.”
Roth recognizes the opportunity at hand tomorrow. He is comfortable with his position, and is looking forward to playing with Fieger, once again, in the final group.
“Gene is easy to play with and a good player and leader. I’m going to keep the same attitude and not put any undue pressure on myself,” said Roth. “All that matters is being the leader after tomorrow’s round. It’s nice to be the leader after the first, second and third days, but tomorrow’s when it really counts.”
PGA Life Member Northern, who missed the cut in his debut last year, vaulted into a share of third place after his six-birdie, bogey-free 66. Northern ignited his round with four consecutive birdies from Holes 6-9 and added birdies at No. 13 and 15. He hit his approach over the green at No. 18, and salvaged his gem of a round by holing a 30-foot par putt.
”The first five holes I was coasting along. Then I made a really good swing on 6 and made a 20-footer downhill that really got me going,” said Northern. “On 18, I hit a 7-iron and got underneath the wind. I didn’t look at my yardage book close enough to notice that it drops off the back. But I was able to knock in the putt. A good putt will save you any day.”
The low 35 scorers following Sunday’s round earn a berth in the 78th KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, May 25-28, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club- Washington D.C., in Potomac Falls, Virginia.