8/10 • 3 - 6 PM
Gene Sauers isn’t wishing ill on anyone Sunday afternoon, but he knows he is going to need some help to earn his second U.S. Senior Open title.
Sauers, who captured the 2016 U.S. Senior Open at Scioto Country Club and lost in a playoff to Colin Montgomerie two years earlier at Oak Tree National, is proving once again that he has an affinity for this event. He starts out Round 4 on the Old Course at Saucon Valley Country Club tied for second with Rob Labritz at 6-under-par 207. The only problem is that he trails the leader, Padraig Harrington, by five strokes.
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“I’ve got to be on my A game,” said Sauers, 59, of Savannah, Ga. “In a major championship, you’ve got to hit fairways and give yourself opportunities. Hit greens and hope that – I don’t want to say anything bad – but hopefully they kind of mess up a bit.”
Harrington, of the Republic of Ireland, appears as though he will be tough to catch. After starting with an even-par 71 in Thursday’s morning drizzle and occasional downpours, he has gone 65-66 to take control of things – so far. Sauers has been impressed watching from a distance.
“Padraig is tearing it up,” said Sauers, who won three times in a long PGA Tour career that also included 46 top-10 finishes. “He’s playing a 6,500-yard golf course and I’m playing a 7,500-yard golf course.”
It’s not as though Sauers is unfamiliar with overcoming challenges. His battle and recovery in 2011 from Stevens–Johnson syndrome – when doctors gave him only a 25-percent chance of survival – was a painful, arduous process involving multiple skin grafts. Having given up pro golf in frustration a few years earlier, Sauers embraced the game again and used it as motivation in his recovery efforts.
Interestingly, in both his playoff defeat and his win in this championship, Sauers was taking on a more celebrated player who competed for Europe in multiple Ryder Cups, just as with Harrington. In 2014, Sauers lipped out a birdie bid on the 72nd hole before losing a three-hole aggregate playoff to Montgomerie. In 2016, he overcame a late deficit to Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain and made a winning 5-foot par putt to win by one stroke over Jimenez, who bogeyed the final hole, and Billy Mayfair.
As Sauers once said about his attitude since putting the illness in the rearview mirror, “Sure, I get frustrated, but I don’t get down. That’s golf, you know. Frustrating game.”
Sauers’ best finish this season on PGA Tour Champions is a tie for second in the ClubCorp Classic in April. It’s one of nine career runner-up finishes on the circuit, with the 2016 Senior Open the lone victory.
“I’m going to need to have a two-shot swing from somewhere in the middle of the round, just to keep me going,” Sauers admitted of his hopes of catching Harrington. “He’s a world-class player, and he’s won a lot. I’m just going to try to hit the ball solid on every shot and give myself chances.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.