Colorado Springs, Colo. - We're not talking about blind squirrels finding acorns here – or even black bears - but both Jeff Klein and Scott Simpson were quick to admit their third-round scores of 64 on Saturday at the U.S. Senior Open came out of nowhere.
"I didn't think there would be anything like 64s this week," said Simpson.
|Jeff Klein, who took just 25 putts Saturday, lines one up on the 17th hole. (John Mummert/USGA)
Klein was even more emphatic. "I played in the Colorado Open last week and played terrible. I couldn't even hit it," he said.
He could hit it on Saturday at The Broadmoor, well enough to get to eight under par after 14 holes, well enough to challenge the Senior Open record low score of 63, well enough to get galleries at The Broadmoor flocking to his position on the golf course in anticipation of something magical.
"They were yelling and screaming and having fun," said Klein, a journeyman pro who is in his rookie season on the Champions Tour. "I played the Colorado Open a million times, and played in Denver a lot, so there are actually a lot of people I know in this area. It's about as home of a course as you can get when you live west of Nebraska."
A native of Lincoln, Neb., and a huge Nebraska football fan, Klein made himself at home on the base of the Cheyenne Mountain range. By the time he got to No. 15 tee, he had eight birdies and no bogeys and was on pace for a 62. Can you spell r-e-c-o-r-d?
"I didn't have any idea," said Klein. "I knew it was a really, really good score. But I might have played it differently because I had it to eight under and, but ... no. I tried as hard as I could."
Klein's momentum stalled at 15, where the wind kicked up and he missed the fairway. He made bogey to go to seven under, then bogeyed the last hole to give one more back.
Still, Klein couldn't remember the last time he turned in a round as low as 64. And for a guy trying to prove himself among the best 50-and-over players in the world, the low number of the championship was a testimonial. It's been a long haul for Klein, who didn't earn his PGA Tour card until he was 45 years old and promptly, in his words, "got my lunch handed to me out there."
Maybe, as he moved into a tie for fifth at a senior major championship, he has brought his lunch. Maybe his time has finally come.
"That's one thing," Klein said, "because you watch the guys on the Champions Tour and you know they have been really good at one time, way better than me. You kind of want to come out here and see if you can play with those guys or not. And if you can't, you can't, and if you can, great. And I proved I can so far this week."
In contrast, Simpson need not prove he can play. Simpson accomplished that when he won the 1987 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club and came close to winning a second Open in 1991 at Hazeltine, where he came up short in an 18-hole playoff with Payne Stewart.
Like Klein, Simpson had no inkling he would go so low in the third round of this Senior Open. Like Klein, he also had eight birdies and two bogeys. Unlike Klein, Simpson was traveling north when he finished his round, adding birdies at Nos. 14 and 18 to finish off the crimson-colored card.
Asked if he saw such a score coming, Simpson said: "Absolutely not. I had no clue I was going to shoot 64. I struggled the first two days a lot and I putted terribly. I had 36 putts yesterday."
On Saturday, the 52-year old Simpson hit 13 greens and covered the same18 holes in 25 putts, an average of 1.72 per hole. Practice paid off.
"I worked on putting stroke, got it smoothed out last night, and just went out there today," said Simpson. "I one-putted my first five holes and just got some momentum going and just played real well.
"Last week, at the British Open, I made seven birdies for the week and today I made eight, so I didn't see it coming, that's for sure."
At the same, Simpson felt the East Course at The Broadmoor also played a part in his windfall. With the greens getting a little crusty as the week wore on, the groundskeepers watered the grass on Friday night, which made flagsticks a bit more accessible.
The proof was in the putting, as the course played to an average score of slightly more than 71 on Saturday morning, several strokes lighter than the day before.
"The greens held real well in the morning," said Simpson. "So that's a big advantage playing early. It just seemed like you had a better chance to make birdies today."
Simpson climbed the leaderboard to one over for the championship. He was seven over for the event and 13 shots off the lead when the day began. He had nothing to lose by firing at those more agreeable flagsticks.
"I was just happy to make the cut when the day began," he said, with a smile. "I was struggling, so I came in feeling pretty free. It's not like I was in contention.
"It's a great feeling to have one of those rounds where you make a lot of putts and birdies. Yeah, 64, in a USGA event, that's a heckuva round."
Whether you see it coming or not.
Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.