STEVENS POINT, Wis. — Bernhard Langer took a two-stroke lead Saturday in the U.S. Senior Open at difficult SentryWorld in the 65-year-old German star’s bid to break the PGA Tour Champions’ career victory record.
Fan favorites Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly -both from Madison, 100 miles to the south – were right behind, with Retief Goosen and Y.E. Yang the only other players under par with a round left on the punishing tree-lined course with thick rough and tricky greens.
Langer shot his second straight 3-under 68 to reach 6 under. The 2010 U.S. Senior Open winner at Sahalee outside Seattle, Langer won the Chubb Classic in Florida in February to tie Hale Irwin for the Champions’ career victory record of 45.
“No, it’s not on my mind at all,” Langer said about the record. “Hopefully, my mind will not wander anywhere but on the next shot. That’s the secret to playing the best golf.”
Allen Doyle is the oldest winner in event history, taking the 2006 title at SentryWorld at 57 years, 11 months, 14 days.
Langer will play alongside Kelly on Sunday.
“I remember playing against Fred Couples in Seattle in this championship, and if there were 30,000 people, every one of them was cheering for Fred, and the only one for me was my caddie, who was my son,” Langer said. “It was like a Ryder Cup match in America.”
Kelly and Stricker, paired together Saturday, closed with birdies on the par-4 18th, with Kelly making a 20-foot putt from the fringe and Stricker following with a 15-footer. They each shot 68, with Kelly second at 4 under and Sticker third at 3 under.
“It’s really special,” Kelly said, “Just being with one of my best friends out there in this kind of atmosphere at this level is pretty cool to do. Both shooting the same score, both in it still. We just had a lot of fun.”
Sticker won the first two senior majors of the year and took his hometown Madison event three weeks ago for his fourth Champions victory of the season.
Two-time U.S. Open champion Goosen and Yang were 1 under. Goosen closed with a birdie for a 71.
“First nine, I didn’t miss one fairway, and really had my chances to go much lower and didn’t take it,” Goosen said. “The greens were for some reason a lot slower today. I kept leaving everything a foot short.”
Yang had a 69.
“It’s good to play a course like this once in a while because it really helps you focus,” Yang said. “I like it.”
Langer birdied the first two holes and rebounded from a bogey on No. 4 with a birdie on No. 5.
“Got off to a dream start,” Langer said. “My first five shots were as good as I can hit them, plus two really good putts. Started birdie-birdie, and had another birdie opportunity on 3, which I missed.”
He parred the next 11 holes, made a 4-footer for birdie on the par-4 17th, then got up-and-down for par on 18, nearly holing a 40-foot try from off the green.
“Played really solid,” Langer said. “Got a little shaky there in the middle and had to save a few pars. I think the greens slowed up a little bit somewhere along the line. Left a couple of putts short, long putts, and then had to make 4- to 6-footers, which is not my favorite distance.”
Langer opened with a 71 and shot his first 68 on Friday to take a one-stroke lead over first-round leader Rod Pampling into the weekend.
Pampling had a 79 on Saturday to drop to 6 over. He had 7s on the par-4 fourth and par-5 fifth.
“You never want to have days like today, but unfortunately you have them,” Pampling said. “Just let it go and get ready for tomorrow.”