U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Jimenez Perseveres on Windy Saturday to Claim 54-Hole Lead
August 13, 2016 | Columbus, Ohio
By Scott Lipsky, USGA
Often referred to as the “Most Interesting Man in Golf,” Miguel Angel Jimenez has another nickname that has been with him for decades. Having worked in an auto repair shop and developed an affinity for luxury cars, he has long been known as “The Mechanic.” Therefore, it is only fitting that the Spaniard was able to engineer one of the best rounds on a windy day at Scioto Country Club, carding a 1-under-par 69 to give him a one-stroke lead over Gene Sauers heading into Sunday’s final round and an opportunity to earn yet another identifier: 37th U.S. Senior Open champion.
“The conditions were tough today, especially because of the wind. The greens were softer the first two rounds, and with the gusting wind it’s not easy to choose the right club,” said Jimenez, 52, who posted a 54-hole score of 3-under 207. “Patience, that was the key today.”
Beginning the day three strokes off the lead, Jimenez quickly closed the gap with birdies on Nos. 2 and 7 as the two players who started Round 3 at the top briskly came back to the pack. Overnight leader Joey Sindelar made a birdie on No. 1, but that would prove to be the lone bright spot for the Ohio State University product. A bogey-bogey-double bogey run on holes 3 through 5 dropped him from the top of the leader board and he went on shoot a 7-over 77, leaving him five strokes back. Billy Mayfair, who opened the day one stroke off the lead, came out of the gate with a double bogey.
Sauers birdied two of his first three holes to briefly take the lead, but bogeys on 5, 7 and 8 erased his early momentum.
Jimenez made a solid par on the 491-yard, par-4 eighth, which has played as the most difficult hole of the championship, and the final grouping of Sindelar, Mayfair and Sauers followed up with a trio of bogeys on the hole while Jimenez was getting up and down for par on the par-3 ninth. It was a pivotal few minutes on Saturday morning that would set the tone for the day.
Even when The Mechanic stumbled on the incoming nine, those in closest pursuit were largely unable to capitalize. After a birdie on No. 12 stretched Jimenez’s lead to three, he pulled his approach shot on No. 13 long and left of the green, which ended his reign as the only bogey-free player in Round 3. His tee shot on the par-3 14th was short and left, leading to a second straight dropped shot.
Meanwhile, Sauers three-putted the par-5 12th, then couldn’t get up and down on No. 14 to drop two shots in three holes. When Jimenez rebounded by making a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 15, his lead was four.
Sauers put himself in prime position to be a factor on Sunday with his play down the stretch, making birdie on No. 16 after Jimenez bogeyed the hole. He then made a 48-foot putt from off the green on the par-3 17th to move to within one. He parred No. 18 to put the finishing touches on a gutsy, 1-over 71 for a 54-hole total of 2-under 208. Jimenez missed makeable birdie putts on both 17 and 18 to get into the clubhouse one stroke better.
Victory on Sunday for Sauers would be equal parts redemption and a signal that he has fully returned to form after the most trying chapter of his life. After a near-fatal bout with a skin disorder known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome five years ago, the 53-year-old from Savannah, Ga., returned to full-time competition in 2013 and nearly captured the U.S. Senior Open the following year, falling in a playoff to Colin Montgomerie at Oak Tree National after nearly winning with a birdie on the 72nd hole.
“You know, it’s great. Five years ago, I was laying in a hospital bed. So here I am playing with some of the best players in the world and in the last group on Sunday,” said Sauers, who won three times on the PGA Tour. “Didn’t think I’d ever be playing golf again. So it’s a thrill to me and an honor, and I’m just so humbled to be here.”
A win on Sunday for Jimenez would land him his first senior major title, and make him the first USGA champion from Spain. He tied for second earlier this year in the Senior Players Championship, and held the 54-hole lead in the Senior Open Championship at Carnoustie before finishing tied for third. Despite having not yet closed in one of his age group’s biggest events, he doesn’t plan to change his approach.
“I’ll just keep playing golf and give myself patience. That’s the main thing,” said Jimenez, who tied for 17th in his Senior Open debut last year. “In Scotland, I lost without playing bad, and tomorrow we have to play 18 holes, whatever happens happens. Just keep focused and enjoy yourself.”
It will take either a stumble by both leaders or an impressive round for one of the pursuers to lift the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy on Sunday. There is a three-way tie for third three strokes behind Sauers at 1-over 211, which includes Ian Woosnam, Loren Roberts and Mayfair. Roberts and Woosnam both had two birdies and two bogeys en route to rounds of even-par 70. Woosnam will play with Jimenez and Sauers in the final group on Sunday beginning at 12:30 p.m. EDT.
“Miguel, I mean, he’s been playing good all year. He’s still relatively young, he hits it a mile. So I would think he would be the favorite,” said Roberts, 61, who holds the championship’s 18-hole score record, having shot 62 in 2006 at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. “Depending on the weather, I’m going to have to get to at least 3 under par, and if he shoots under par, which I would guess that he would do if the wind doesn’t blow, it’s going to take a low round for me.”
It will take a special effort from Sindelar, who is now five strokes back and tied for sixth, to win the championship in the city where he played college golf.
“Stranger things have happened,” said Sindelar. “I’m disappointed with the score. Most of the shots were square and I didn’t putt quite as good. I didn’t have any momentum.”
Jimenez’s 69 was one of four under-par rounds on Saturday. Bernhard Langer, who had the shot of the day with an eagle on the par-4 11th hole when he slam-dunked his approach shot from 74 yards, and Scott Dunlap, also shot 69, while David Frost shot 68, the low round of the day.
Defending champion Jeff Maggert is six strokes back in a tie for 13th after a 2-over 72 on Saturday.
Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.