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Triplett is Trending Toward Bettering 2017 Runner-Up Finish July 1, 2018 | Colorado Springs, Colo. By Dave Shedloski

Kirk Triplett has climbed back into contention after opening with a 74. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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Kirk Triplett was hitting a few post-round balls on the practice area at The Broadmoor late Saturday afternoon when a thought occurred to him that probably should have struck him much sooner.

“I stood back for a second and realized, ‘Hey, I’m in great shape here.’ I don’t know why it didn’t hit me sooner,” Triplett said after his 2-under-par 68 in Round 3 did indeed leave him in great shape heading into Sunday’s final round of the 39th U.S. Senior Open Championship.

“I haven’t even been thinking about winning all week,” he continued. “I was 6 over par at one point in the first round, and I’ve just been spending all my time since then battling back and trying to figure out this golf course. I’m actually very surprised. My feeling has been that someone was going to get up around 10 under par, but that just hasn’t happened. Shows you how tough this place has been playing.”

Triplett has been showing how tough he’s been hanging in.

Winner of six PGA Tour Champions titles, including the Bass Pro Legends team event earlier this year with Paul Broadhurst, Triplett sits at 2-under 208 and trails leader Jerry Kelly by two strokes at the outset of the final round on the East Course, thanks to a rally that even he didn’t see coming.

In Thursday’s opening round, he appeared headed for the Delta ticket counter when he double-bogeyed the vulnerable par-5 third hole to fall to plus-6, but he managed to birdie his final two holes to salvage a 74. He extended his birdie string to five straight when opened with three more in the second round to ignite a 66 that got him to even par.

Saturday’s efforts yielded five more birdies – giving him 14 for the championship, the leader in that category. The 56-year-old from Scottsdale, Ariz., is the only man in the field who has bettered par in each of the last two rounds. He’s trending, is the operative word.

“I thought he drove the ball really, really well. He hit it long and in the fairway. So, he was set up for a lot of opportunities to try to make birdie,” said David Toms, who shot 66 Saturday paired with Triplett. “He'll definitely be a factor [Sunday].”

It should be a familiar feeling. Last year in this championship, Triplett opened with a 62 and led after each of the first three rounds at Salem Country Club, near Boston, but he couldn’t hold off hot-putting Kenny Perry in the final round.

Playing in today’s penultimate pairing with Tim Petrovic at 2:35 p.m. MDT, Triplett has a chance for a rare make-good. Only four men have realized redemption by winning this championship the year after finishing runner-up. The last to do it was Fred Funk in 2009 at Crooked Stick after he was second right here at The Broadmoor in ’08. The others were Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Bruce Fleisher.

For added coincidental foreshadowing, Fleisher’s win came at Salem in 2001.

“Well, it’s a great chance,” Triplett said after learning the rarity of the feat he was attempting to accomplish. “Again, I’m surprised I’m in this position. It would be cool if I could win it, but I’m going to have to go out and play another really good, solid round. I have to go out and beat a lot of great players. It’s not a cool story unless I go do it.”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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