|With the gallery behind him, Tim Jackson prematurely celebrates a near chip-in on No. 11 Saturday. (John Mummert/USGA)
Carmel, Ind. - After going where no amateur had ever gone before, Tim Jackson came back to Earth on Saturday at Crooked Stick Golf Club.
The surprising U.S. Senior Open rookie, who posted a record-breaking round on Thursday and took it to another record-breaking level on Friday, couldn't keep up the same birdie-blistering pace on day three. Playing in the final pairing of the day alongside Joey Sindelar, carrying the championship lead on his shoulders, Jackson posted a third-round 73 and fell three strokes off the leading pace of Fred Funk.
"I knew the first two days I played really solid and putted well," said Jackson, who missed eight greens and had his worst putting day (29 putts) of the championship. "And today I had some mental struggles out there. I got to hitting it a little crooked; that got in my head, and I lost a little confidence mid-way into the round."
So guess what? He's human after all. Golf fans around the country had to be wondering after Jackson finished his first round of a U.S. Senior Open with a 6-under-par 66, then added a 67 to take the halfway point lead.
A two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, Jackson expected another shoe would fall at some point.
"You have to expect there's going to some rough spots," he said. "I had to grind it out, and that's about all you can say. It wasn't pretty, but I got a decent score in and I'm not out of it. I still got a chance tomorrow so we'll see what happens."
Jackson did well to handle the bumps in the road. After getting to 13 under early in his round, and still leading the championship, the 50-year-old Germantown, Tenn., resident bogeyed three of his next five holes. No doubt many were expecting to see the wheels come off - rims, lug nuts and all.
But Jackson scrambled to stay solvent, finishing with seven consecutive pars on the back side, holding serve on the most difficult part of the golf course. Sindelar, who had a 70 to get to 12 under, wasn't surprised by Jackson's toughness.
"You can tell he's played a lot of championship golf," said Sindelar, who is searching for his first senior circuit win. "Everyone I spoke to about him said, 'Really nice guy.' He has a great son (15-year-old Austin) on the bag. My son and I did that last week, so I know those feelings, so obviously they're sharing a great time together out there.
"And then in terms of golf, he has no weaknesses. He drives it well. He gets it out there way far enough. All of his categories were very good ... I can see why his resume looks so good. He's not done. Don't count him out."
The week has to be wearing on Jackson, who is not accustomed to competing in front of the kind of galleries that are packing Crooked Stick, or an environment loaded with established professional stars. What's more, this is the third consecutive week Jackson has competed. He played in the Southern Amateur and the Porter Cup during the previous two weeks.
"Yeah, this is different," Jackson said. "I haven't been eating too much. I need to weigh myself; I was heavy when I got here. I know I still am, but I probably lost a little weight. I hope to sleep and eat better tonight."
Jackson will get a break in that he will play with the easy-going Sindelar again on Sunday in the second-to-last pairing.
"I'll be playing with Joey again tomorrow and he's just a super guy to play with. That will be nice."
Perhaps Jackson can muster enough strength to recapture the magic. Or perhaps overcoming three strokes against some of the best senior players in the world is too much to ask. He will be nervous, he admitted, but he also will be thankful for the experience, no matter what happens.
"It's all good," Jackson said. "You know, whatever happens tomorrow, I mean, I'm going to leave this place with a fantastic memory, the best golf fans I've ever been around. And this is going to be a place I look forward to coming back to, to visit, to watch Peyton (Manning) play football."
Given what Tim Jackson has accomplished at the Senior Open this week, maybe Manning will be watching him on this Sunday.
Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.