John Cook produced the joint lowest round of The Senior Open Championship so far to lead going into the final round at Royal Troon as the American gave himself the chance to banish the pain of missing out on The 1992 Open Championship.
Cook shot a four under par round of 67, which equalled Greg Norman’s earlier third round score, to take a one stroke lead ahead of compatriot and overnight leader Bruce Vaughan and move into pole position for his first Major Championship win.
Vaughan had surged into an early three stroke advantage following an eagle three on the par five fourth hole but four successive bogeys starting on the ninth hole saw him slip back.
Conversely Cook, who has only made four bogeys all Championship, once again negotiated Royal Troon with precision and care on a perfect day for low scoring on the Ayrshire coast.
He moved to six under par for the Championship, with Vaughan a stroke behind, and Argentine Eduardo Romero also in contention on four under par.
Defending champion Tom Watson is still in the equation one under par along with Bernhard Langer, while Norman should not be ruled out after reproducing something akin to his Open Championship form of last week with a 67 to move to one over par, seven shots off the lead.
It is Cook, however, who shaded pre-tournament favourites Langer, Norman and Watson by carding six birdies and just the two bogeys to move into pole position for only his second win as a senior golfer, following his victory at the AT&T Championship on the Champions Tour last year.
The 51 year old said he would go into the final round feeling he had a real chance of landing the title and exorcise the memory of missing out on The Open Championship 16 years ago after finishing runner up behind Nick Faldo despite leading by two shots with two holes to play at Muirfield.
He said: “I'm very pleased to be where I'm at. I know there's a lot of tournament winners behind me and some very good players, and that's what you want. I came over here to win this Championship and if I do the things that I'm supposed to do, and know how to do, I have a good chance. I have to be patient and hit quality golf shots tomorrow, and let it fall where it falls.
“I won 11 times on The PGA Tour and that's not bad but I did not capture a Major unfortunately. I had a few chances I didn't capitalise on, and that part is missing, and I feel incomplete. That's how you're judged. That's how you're remembered in this game. Fair or unfair, that's just the way it is, and I understand that.
“This would be a very nice win obviously. It would help in the redemption process of 1992, for sure.”
Vaughan, similar to his opening 18 holes, once again had an eventful round, with four birdies, an eagle and the four consecutive bogeys around the turn to card a two under par round of 69.
He said: “It was pretty good to battle back from those four straight bogeys in the middle of the round. I hit the wrong club on the ninth, missed a short one at 10 and messed up on 11. Then we had the yardage wrong at the 12th. It was a battle after that but I settled down and I made a couple of birdies and turned it around. I played good golf today.”
Romero, who has twice finished runner up, is well placed to final break his Senior Open Championship duck after a round of 68 and is confident about his chances of winning.
He said: “This year my putter is working very nicely and I'm a completely different player. I think it's my week.”
Defending Champion Watson will need an impressive final round if he is to land a record fourth Seenior Open Championship victory after a level par 71.
He said: “It wasn’t a good round for me. I shot even par but I was pretty grateful for that. I hit the ball indifferently today and I got what I deserved. I hit the ball in the rough a few times and I hit a few bad iron shots and I’m going to the practice ground to work on my alignment a little bit.”
Similarly Norman will need to produce something almost as special as his first three rounds at Royal Birkdale but reignited his chances with four birdies to go into the final round on one over par.
The Great White Shark opened with a birdie and the picked up shots on the fourth sixth and 16th holes but felt that he had missed a chance to shoot an even better score in perfect conditions at Royal Troon.
He said: “I’m not very happy to tell you the truth. There wasn’t anything wrong with my game today. I felt like I even putted well but I just didn’t make anything. I was very disappointed with 67 today.
“Today was better than yesterday. Today was really solid I drove the ball really beautifully and drove it long. I think 67 was the worst score I could have made today.”
Family Fun Day proves a huge success
A record number of spectators at Royal Troon have enjoyed the action inside the ropes but there was added fun and excitement outside the ropes on Saturday too thanks to the hugely successful Family Fun Day.
Over 1000 children enjoyed the wide range of fun activities centred around the Tented Village and the practice area which included a clown, a 16 foot stilt walker, life size puppets doing a musical performance of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a face painter and a parent and child golf challenge, where prizes included the chance to have a picture taken with The Senior Open champion at the end of play on Sunday. ClubGolf also offered members of the public a free 15 minute golf lesson, with a soft ball experience for younger children.
Edward Kitson, Championship Director, said: “The entire Family Fun Day was a huge success and a big thank you must go to everyone who took part to make the day so special for all the families who came along and participated in the activities. It was great to see everyone at the championship with a smile on their faces.”