It was just a few years ago that the major problem with the Senior PGA Tour was the lack of competitiveness. Only a handful of golfers were capable of winning a tournament.
With a new competitor arriving every month or so, things have changed.
The $370,000 Vintage Chrysler Invitational is a good example. Going into today’s final 18 holes at The Vintage Club, there are nine golfers within three shots of the lead and six more within five shots.
On Saturday, under seemingly ideal conditions, the leaders struggled and made it anybody’s tournament. Gene Littler, the winner last week in the near-freezing weather at Naples, Fla., fired three birdies on the back nine to shoot a four-under-par 68 to pull into a three-way tie with Bob Charles and Miller Barber at 212, four under for 54 holes.
One stroke behind are Don Bies, who had a 68 in the third round, J.C. Goosie, who threatened to shoot himself out by making four bogeys on the front side, and Larry Mowry. At 214 are Dale Douglass and Tom Shaw.
Defending champion Orville Moody is at 215
Even Al Geiberger, after shooting an 80 in the heavy winds Thursday, has a chance to win it after rounds of 70 and 67. He is now at 217, just one over.
A year ago, Moody finished 25 shots below par by sinking putts from every distance. Geiberger and Harold Henning tied for second in 1988, 14 strokes under par.
“Orville’s to blame for this course playing so much tougher this year,” Mowry said. “Some of these greens are a highway. They didn’t like Orville making all those birdies.”
Although he rallied from a horrible start, Barber declined to be interviewed for the second day in a row. On the first hole it appeared he wouldn’t have to worry about it.
He started the round one shot behind co-leaders Charles and Goosie. In no time at all, he trailed Charles by five strokes.
The 7:50 a.m. start apparently was too early for the leading money winner. He hooked his drive on No. 1 out of bounds. Then, he pulled an approach shot and wound up with a triple-bogey. Charles sank an eight-footer for a birdie. Barber took a double-bogey on the 16th when he hit into the water. It’s rather surprising that he managed to get back into a tie for first.
Charles admits he is a little tired, and looks it. Every time he builds a lead, he goes sour. After five holes he was leading by three, but he lost the lead in two holes by going double-bogey, bogey. Altogether, seven players held the lead at some time during the third round.
“I played the first hole just right for the birdie,” Charles said. “That was the beginning and end of my day. The rest of the day, I had a poor swing.
“I don’t know, but maybe anxiety crept into my swing. When you’re leading all the time, something like that can happen.
“This is a long week. I’m a four-round-a-week man. We’ve been playing all week. Four rounds is my limit. We’ve already played five rounds and now I’ve got to go play another bloody nine in the shootout.”
Asked what he would have to do to win today, Charles, a winner here two years ago, replied: “Keep my head still. Maybe, I’ll wear a heavier cap.”
While others faltered, Littler, hitting the ball with the sweetest swing in golf and putting brilliantly, finished fastest of all.
“After I woke up, I started playing some golf,” he said. “But it was awful early to start playing golf. I was up at 5:30 for a 7:10 start. The guys at 6:30 really had to get up early.
“I had to scramble to make par until the ninth, when it warmed up. Even though I won in the cold last week, I really don’t like it cold or windy. I like my progression from plus-two to minus-two to minus-four. Keep that up and I like my chances.”
Mowry had a great chance to tie for the lead, but he misread a downhill five-footer on No. 18.
Until a couple of years ago, Mowry, who broke through with two tournament victories in 1987, had been a Monday qualifier. Two weeks ago, he won a senior major, the PGA.
“I’m sure I’m playing with more confidence now,” said Mowry, who began his career out of San Diego. “You expect the Players, the Palmers and the Nicklauses to win majors, but a Larry Mowry?
“That made me really proud. I don’t expect to be classed with those greats. But when they honor the winners at a dinner before The Tradition at Scottsdale next month, I’ll be there with Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead and the rest of the boys.”