Bruce Lietzke politely stood to the side while everyone cheered heartily for those worthy opponents. But Saturday was his day, and Lietzke had been Mr. Nice Guy long enough. He started the day quietly enough, but roared to life with a 31 on the back nine, shot a 64 on the day, and leads the U.S. Senior Open by four shots. It was the greatest day of a golfing career which started almost 30 years ago.
Figuring the kind of golf course it is, and how difficult I think it is that probably is the greatest day Ive ever had, said Lietzke.
He began the third round three shots off the lead, but after his birdie at the 11th hole he was all tied with Watson and Fernandez. Then Lietzke shifted the gears into super mode and roared off by himself. He birdied the par-5 13th, lipping out his eagle attempt, then jumped ahead by two with a 90-foot chip-in at No. 14.
After he rolled in an eight-foot putt at 15 for his third birdie a row, he wound up his magnificent day with yet another birdie at No. 18. By that time he had virtually choked the life out of everyone in the field except maybe Watson and Fernandez. Watson and Fernandez are at 5-under, trailing Lietzkes 9-under, and for anyone else to win this tournament would be an upset of the highest magnitude.
Lietzke made nine birdies while hitting just seven fairways, which means he had to make a lot of birdies out of the thick, wiry hay that is Inverness. The conventional wisdom is you just dont do that. He made a mockery of it, though that is certainly something he didnt plan.
If you had told him before the day began that he would hit just seven fairways, he would figure his score to be 4- or 5-over par, he said.
But he putted beautifully all day, and his recoveries from the rough were adroitly played. He somehow found the greens, and when he did miss a green, his chips were almost always from the correct side of the pin.
He doesnt think too far ahead, though. For that reason, a shot in the rough was one shot only. He didnt allow himself to think about his driving or not hitting fairways.
I dont have strategies when it comes to the golf course, he said. Golf is a reactionary sport. You react to wherever your first tee shot goes, and if youre in position and if youve got a pin position you like, you react to that.
I just didnt think there were going to be those kind of opportunities out there. I didnt hit a lot of fairways, so youre not thinking birdies. But my recoveries were great, I chipped in once, I made a whole bunch of putts. I got lucky several times.
But Ive got news for you ' guys who have won U.S. Opens in the past have all had lucky streaks. Thats what it takes to win.
Watson was one of those who got flattened by the Lietzke steam roller.
I was backpedaling there watching Bruce do what he did, said Watson. Desperation hasnt set in yet, but we will see what happens tomorrow. We will see if we can get a little closer than four shots and put a little pressure on Bruce.
Watson sizzled with the putter on Thursday, making four putts of 20 feet or longer and using the wedge to hole another shot. If he did it once this week, could he not do it again Sunday?
Well, Id better, Watson said quickly. If I have any chance to win this tournament, they better falling tomorrow. They didnt fall today. I played enough golf to know that you cant force it to happen.
But Lietzke isnt so sure that he doesnt have another great round in him.
I felt 1- or 2-under would be a real good round of golf, I certainly didnt expect anything like a 63 or 64, he said. But if it was a possibility, then its possible tomorrow.