After two flat calm days the Ailsa Course erected its version of razor wire as gale-force winds and driving rain turned ‘moving day’ into a quest for survival. In the end Loren Roberts headed the ‘Self Preservation Society’ with the only sub-par round to lead Eduardo Romero by four strokes going into the final 18 holes of The Senior British Open Championship, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management.
Over the years Roberts has developed a reputation as one of the finest putters in the business, but his 69 on Saturday was forged with wonderful ball striking and large reserves of patience.
“That is probably in my top three rounds ever. My ball striking was really solid today, the best yet this week,” declared the American.
Given that he carded consecutive 65s on the first two days without dropping a shot, news that his ball striking had improved does not augur well for Romero and the chasing pack.
The Argentine missed a five foot par putt at the last for a round of 73, which leaves him on a three round total of seven under par 203, four behind the irrepressible Roberts.
The third member of the group, former Masters Champion Craig Stadler, was one of many casualties with a round of seven over par 77 that dropped him into a share of fourth spot.
Tim Simpson had earlier left the scorer’s hut with a 72 which moved him up to third place on five under par 205, while joining Stadler on 208 were fellow Americans David Edwards, Gil Morgan and Dick Mast.
Mast was the pick of the bunch. The journeyman professional from Orlando defied the conditions to cover the first 12 holes in two under par and without a bogey – the only player to do so.
The backward half at Turnberry is traditionally where scorecards are ruined and never was that truism more apt than on Saturday, when the last nine holes played to a par of 39.44 and 36 of the 77 players had scores in the 40s.
Mast, though, managed to give just two shots back to finish with a 70 and the second best round of the day.
While Mast’s performance deserved acclaim, Roberts was simply outstanding. The four-time winner on the US Champions Tour went out in one under par 34, thanks to an eagle three at the seventh, and then managed to not only subdue the threats on the homeward straight, but also carve out a number of birdie chances.
“I really had birdie chances all the way to the house with the exception of 18. I didn’t make any of them but when the wind gets going it is hard to make those putts.
“This was probably the most patient I have been on a golf course and I think that is why I was able to play so well. Obviously there are still 18 holes to go but winning this would be huge for me. I have had a nice career on the US Champions Tour but to win this Championship would really be a feather in my cap. I love links golf and I love Turnberry.”
Romero is another who thrives on the challenges posed by the Ailsa Course and the South American was left hoping for more wind tomorrow.
The European Seniors Tour member said: “It was a terrible day with the weather. It’s okay, though, as I did not play bad, I just made a couple of mistakes on the back nine.
“I am second, four behind, but if the weather continues like this tomorrow then four shots is nothing. Loren played really good and he is one of the best putters in the world. I am still feeling in good shape and will go out to do my best tomorrow.”
Japan’s Tommy Nakajima is alone in eighth place on level par 210, 11 shots off the pace, while a shot further back is American Don Pooley.
Pooley’s presence in the top ten is something of a surprise given that he was languishing tied 120th at the end of Thursday’s first round. The American started a magnificent turnaround by shooting 13 shots better with Friday’s 63 and followed that up with a gutsy one over par 72.
England’s Mark James is the leading European on two over par, sharing tenth place with America’s Tom Kite and Peter Jacobsen.