“I hide,” Blake said with a mischievous grin. “I sneak into the corners and peek my head out once in a while.”
He’ll be hard to miss Sunday when he tees off in the last group with co-leader Tom Lehman at the 71st Senior PGA Championship.
Blake, of St. George, Utah, will be aiming for his first PGA title since winning the 1991 Shearson Lehman Brothers Open at Torrey Pines—396 starts and 231 months ago.
“I know it would bring a lot of tears,” Blake said, choking up. “It would mean quite a bit.”
Blake shot a 2-under-par 70 Saturday at the Colorado Golf Club to move to 6 under at the senior circuit’s oldest and most prestigious event.
Lehman fired a 71 through swirling winds that add to the adversity facing golfers at the 3-year-old course co-designed by Ben Crenshaw, a 7,450-foot monster that cuts through open meadows, wooded hillsides and streams and plays to a par-72.
Fred Couples, who led going into the weekend, faltered with a score of 75 but is still just two shots off the pace, along with Mark O’Meara (67) and Mike Goodes (70).
Seven others are within four shots of the leaders, including defending champion Michael Allen (71).
“There are six or eight or 10 guys that if they play good tomorrow can win it,” O’Meara said.
Blake, the 1980 NCAA champion whose only other professional win came at the 1991 Argentine Open, couldn’t recall the last time he had been this close to hoisting a trophy.
It was back in 1997, where he led the Buick Invitational heading into the final round and finished in a tie for 11th as O’Meara erased a two-stroke deficit for the win – just as he’ll try to do Sunday.
Maybe the long drought is why Blake got emotional just thinking about teeing off last. Or maybe it’s because his back and game are in top shape now after years of steady decline on the PGA Tour, the result of ignoring his surgeon’s advice and returning too soon from an appendectomy.
Blake incorporated core strengthening exercises to save his career and he gave up fishing, boating and drag racing to concentrate on the Champions Tour when he celebrated his 50th birthday 18 months ago.
Only thing is, he spends his Mondays trying to qualify.
His sole win on the PGA Tour is what made him automatically eligible here.
“It’s tough to get your foot in the door,” he said.
A win Sunday would give him an exemption through next Memorial Day, and the $360,000 winner’s check would put him well on his way to shooting up the money list to qualify through the 2011 season.
Lehman, who counts the 1996 British Open among his many victories, said he and Blake are a lot alike despite their divergent career paths.
“I don’t have a traditional swing, a picture perfect swing. I don’t do anything I would say great, great. But I do a lot of things very well,” said Lehman, who hobbles around the course on a balky right knee. “If I win, I kind of beat you with consistency. Jay Don has been a grinder for a long time, too. He’s had his battles and I’m sure he’d love to win, and I’d love to win.”
Blake was at a loss to explain his mastery of the course given the winds, which have blown from every direction imaginable this week and were so hard Monday that practice rounds were futile.
“I mean, you couldn’t stand up,” Blake said. “A buddy of mine, Jim Rutledge, I don’t know if we were pretty much idiots going out there but we tried to go play. We quit after six holes and we saw the family dining and the food, so we headed up there.”
The shifting winds all week have rendered this “a different course every time we walked around it almost.”
David Frost had no trouble Saturday, collecting seven birdies in a bogey-free round and setting the course record with a 65 one day after shooting a 77.
Blake entered the weekend tied for fourth at 4 under, three shots behind Couples, who stumbled along with playing partner Tom Kite, who fired a 79.
Kite, who is tied for 22nd place, briefly shared the lead with Couples after a birdie on No. 3 before a brutal five-hole stretch in which he had four bogeys and a double-bogey.
Couples’ game imploded right around the turn as he bogeyed No. 9, four-putted on 10 for a double-bogey and then added bogeys on 11 and 12.
The usually pokerfaced Couples, seeking his fourth win since joining the Champions Tour this year, showed some rare emotion when he slammed his iron back into the bag after a poor shot off the sixth tee.
Kite, who shanked a shot into the foot-high grass and shrubbery 25 yards off the fifth fairway, declined to talk about his round afterward, brushing past a reporter and huffing, “You want to talk to the leaders.”