||Loren Roberts made a run Sunday, tying the Crooked Stick course record. (John Mummert/USGA)
"I got off to a great start," said Roberts, who matched the course record set by Russ Cochran on Saturday. "You go four under after the first four holes and you think anything is possible. I mean, a 64's not bad."
For a while, it did seem anything was possible, including the chances of chasing down the runaway leader, Fred Funk. In the end, he finished nine strokes behind Funk.
Roberts followed an opening-hole birdie with an eagle at No. 2, holing a bunker shot. One hole later, he hit two outstanding shots to make another birdie at No. 4, a par 4 that was playing especially difficult into the wind. Just like that, Roberts was seven under and rolling.
He raised the roof a little more, making birdies at Nos. 9 through 13, five in succession that sent him soaring to 12-under total. At that point, he was within two shots of the lead. At the point, he seemed to be on a Propofol drip - completely unconscious.
"I made it from maybe 15-18 feet at 13 out of the fringe, and you don't think that's going to go in, so you start thinking, 'Hey ... who knows,' " said Roberts. "But 14, 16 and 18 have been the key holes for me driving the ball this week. And I didn't play aggressively enough; then I didn't get up and down at 14."
Roberts bounced back with a birdie at No. 15, nearly holing a chip for another eagle. But he missed a 5-foot putt from below the hole on No. 16, absorbing another bogey he could ill afford. Roberts acknowledged that he was right in the middle of his backstroke at 16 when galleries erupted to cheer another birdie by Funk.
"Yeah, I looked at my caddie and said, 'Oh, I wish I had waited,' " Roberts said. "But those things happen in championship golf. There's nothing you can do about it."
In the end, Roberts added, it mattered not. Funk was en fuego.
"I wasn't going to catch Freddie anyway," said Roberts, whose next event will be the JELD-WEN Tradition. "I was pretty much playing for second or third. But hey, I had a really good round. I made a nice little up-and-down at No. 18 to really save a nice little round."
As it turned out, it was a third-round 74 that truly sabotaged Roberts' chances. Dipping from five under to three under by the end of play on Saturday, Roberts was 10 strokes in arrears to start his final trip. "I don't know what happened yesterday," he said. "I haven't felt tired or anything; I just got out of synch."
As it turned out, he would have needed to collect too many strokes to match Funk. Eight birdies and an eagle over the last 18 holes of a national championship will allow Roberts to live with himself. In fact, his taxing transcontinental shuffle notwithstanding, he's ready to tee it up again.
"I feel pretty good," he said, with a smile. "I'm sorry we're not playing next week."
But if you got to go, Highway 64 is not a bad way to go.
Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com