Colorado Springs, Colo. — Looking at the dearth of red numbers on the 29th U.S. Senior Open scoreboard on Saturday, all was good again at The Broadmoor East Course.
On Friday, only 11 par or better rounds were shot, causing many players to mumble, grumble and
|Eduardo Romero closes out a magnificent round with a 3-foot birdie putt on No. 18. (John Mummert/USGA)
quietly curse the playing conditions, specifically the hole locations. But a day later, many of the same players were feeling quite content with their afternoon strolls.
With 91 fewer players in the field, there were 16 even par or better rounds posted in the third round. Within minutes of each other, Scott Simpson, the 1987 U.S. Open champion, and Jeff Klein, of Scottsbluff, Neb., who turned 50 in May and went through qualifying to make his first U.S. Senior Open appearance, signed for 6-under 64s — the low rounds of the championship.
The happiest of the afternoon, though, was 54-year-old Argentinean Eduardo Romero, who shot 65 and took his first lead of this major on the exacting back nine.
"I played great today, fantastic round today, very solid, unbelievable," said Romero, who has two Champions Tour victories, one being the 2006 JELD-WEN Tradition that is considered one of the tour’s five major championships. "It was my best round so far this year and I really enjoyed it."
Heading into Sunday, three players — all under par — have separated themselves from the rest of the field. Behind Romero is 36-hole leader Fred Funk (69) at 7-under 203 and John Cook (66) at 6-under 204. Tom Kite (71) is the only other player under par for the championship at 1-under 209.
Greg Norman, who shot 68, is among four players at even par, and was prophetic about the leaders still on the course when he finished, thinking that 9 or 10 under would be the bar.
"If that's the case, then that's too big a pill to swallow," said Norman, when asked if it were too sizable of a margin to overcome.
Said Cook: "I think right now with Eduardo at nine under, you have to be looking into double figures to have a chance to win."
Romero and Funk appeared as if they might make a mockery of the leaderboard, each going out in 4-under 32 to reach 8 and 10 under, respectively. Cook shot an outward 36, looked at the leaderboard and suddenly found himself trailing by eight shots.
"I thought, ‘Wow, what am I doing down here at two, just hanging on,’" Cook said. "But there was nobody else, so I was OK with that, and that's when my mind would click back in and just hit a good golf shot here."
The back nine, though, has a way of taking away what a player has earned on the more docile front. And that was never more evident than Saturday.
Funk, who has played the front nine in 10 under with nary a bogey this week, bogeyed holes 11, 12 and 14. He lost the lead to Romero with the second bogey. Meanwhile, Romero traded a birdie at the 478-yard, par-4 11th for a bogey at the 451-yard, par-4 15th. At the 433-yard, par-4 18th, Romero hit his approach to 3 feet below the hole and converted the birdie to open a two-stroke advantage.
"Well, the back nine is more difficult because you have to putt the ball on the fairway," Romero said. "It's very hard to putt the ball on the fairway from the tee. Because some fairways, you know, it's hollow and you can't see the line from there. It's very difficult to put the ball in the fairway from the tee."
Funk enjoyed his pairing with Romero, but began to show the strain of frustration on the back nine. Shot after shot went errant, either finding bunker or rough. He helped ease the negative vibes by saving par at 18 with a 12-foot putt.
"The back nine, I just did what you can't do on this golf course, and that's not control your golf ball," he said. "I didn't control my ball very well off the tee and got into trouble about every hole on the back nine and ended up shooting three over, and one under for the day. But kind of blew a really good front nine."
Meanwhile, Cook was quickly closing the gap, picking up four birdies on the inward nine.
"I'm confident on the back side," he said. "It sets up well for me. We've hit some quality shots, so I'll draw on that experience tomorrow. The thing is you have to get there to be able to use it. Experience doesn't do you much unless you get there and have a chance to use it."
Of the three main leaders, through 54 holes, Cook is four under on the back nine, Romero is even par and Funk is three over. And while the jockeying for the lead may unfold on the back nine on Sunday, Funk believes the championship could be won on the front nine.
"I think tomorrow the key is going to be the front nine, the group of guys that goes out there and lights it up on the front," he said. "That's where you've got to get it. I think it's proven."
The stroke average for the front nine is .027 strokes below par, while the back nine is 2.124 strokes above par.
Right now, though, Romero has only one figure in his mind — finishing first.
"I came here to win this tournament, and to win this tournament for me is like a dream," he said. "Yesterday and probably tomorrow, the dreams come true, that's all."