|Joey Sindelar, on the 14th fairway Saturday, played the final four holes even par. (John Mummert/USGA)
Carmel, Ind. – There's very little mystery to where the 30th U.S. Senior Open is likely to be decided on Sunday at Crooked Stick Golf Club. The four most difficult holes are among the final five on the Pete Dye-designed layout.
The mystery to solve is navigating them safely with a national championship on the line.
Fred Funk leads after 54 holes with a 13-under 203 total, but Greg Norman and Joey Sindelar are just a stroke back and 10 other players are within seven shots. It's well within the realm of possibility that one of those players could rally for the title, given that Allen Doyle erased a nine-shot deficit the final day in 2005 with an 8-under 63 at NCR Country Club in suburban Dayton, Ohio.
Most championships don't begin until the back nine on Sunday. This one might not really start until the last five holes.
"It's probably not going to be won or lost on those last few holes, but just lost, because they are very hard," said Ronnie Black, who made two eagles during his third round but bogeyed two of the final three holes for a 70. "Depending on where they put the pins, all that pressure, you could definitely see shots getting away from the guys on top."
"You better have it all because a lot can happen," said Dan Forsman, who at 8-under 208 trails Funk by five strokes. "If you're within two or three shots coming home, you're not out of it."
Here's what the players face: the dogleg left 480-yard, par-4 14th hole is ranked the most difficult through three rounds, with the field averaging 4.416. Holes 16, 18 and 17 are, in order, the next hardest, though the 211-yard par-3 17th was meanest Saturday, yielding just two birdies to the 62 players remaining.
Sandwiched in between is Crooked Stick's easiest hole, the par-5 15th, which is playing more than half a stroke under par at 4.451. At 520 yards, it's easily reachable in two shots, but presents its own pressures because it's the last decent chance for a player to make up a shot, or perhaps more.
"Fifteen, you've got to take advantage of it; that's your breather coming in. You want to make a 4 there if you can," said Funk, who played the final three holes on Saturday in one under par thanks to a 25-foot birdie on the 16th – just one of five on the day at the 465-yard par 4 – and a par save from the fringe at the 17th.
Tom Watson, who shot himself out of contention Saturday with a triple-bogey on the 455-yard 18th that runs along the course's largest water hazard, said none of the holes have been easy for him this week.
"But the closing stretch, if you're not putting the ball in play there, some big numbers are possible, which I found out."
Like any Open, pars are good numbers. But Forsman had a thought.
"Somebody finishes with a birdie (that could) put some heat on anybody. Very good game plan. I'll think about it all night."
Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.