ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — Shortly after putting a dent into Oak Hill Country Club’s stingy reputation, Mark O’Meara was offered a chance to play “what if?”
If someone offered O’Meara a pair of even-par 70s over the final two rounds of the 69th Senior PGA Championship, would he take it?
“I’d like my chances,” he said. “I wouldn’t have a problem.”
O’Meara, with a tournament-low round of 4-under 66 on Friday, vaulted into contention in a confidence-ravaged field that’s as tight as the 7,001-yard East Course’s fairways.
At 2-over 142 for the tournament, O’Meara’s in a tie for fourth with Bernhard Langer. They’re two shots off the lead that’s now held by Tom Purtzer, a six-year Champions Tour veteran, who sounded as surprised as anyone to find himself alone in first at even-par 140.
“Well, it was a lot more fun that it was yesterday,” Purtzer said after his round of 3 under.
As for his thoughts on how Oak Hill’s playing, Purtzer said: “To me, it’s borderline too difficult.”
Tell that to the other 83 players who managed to make the eye-popping cut of 12-over heading into the final two rounds of the $2 million tournament this weekend.
The cut was the highest at a Senior PGA since 1990, when it was set at 13 over at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Purtzer and O’Meara were among only eight players that have posted a sub-par round this week in a tournament that remains wide open with 26 players within 6 shots of the lead.
There’s Jay Haas and Massy Kuramoto tied for second, 1 shot off the pace.
Local favorite Jeff Sluman, who grew up playing Oak Hill, is alone at 143. And then there’s a 10-player logjam at 145 which includes Greg Norman, Scott Hoch and defending Senior PGA champion Denis Watson.
Norman shot a 73 and, perhaps, best summed up how the day went when asked to assess his round.
“I don’t know how I felt,” said Norman, who counted his fiancee, tennis champion Chris Evert, as part of his gallery. “I felt I could’ve been 3 shots better easily. But it’s not to be the case.”
Purtzer at least enjoyed some good results during a five-birdie, two-bogey round. Starting on No. 10, he fell to 2-over with a bogey on No. 5 before closing strong with a 12-foot putt for birdie on No. 7 and a 25-footer for birdie on No. 9.
“I just feel fortunate to be here,” said Purtzer, who has posted only two top-10 finishes in 11 events this season. “I feel pretty good about what I’m doing, so we’ll just see what happens.”
O’Meara bounced back from a wildly inconsistent opening round, which included three double-bogeys and one triple, O’Meara settled down by carding six birdies on Friday. The best came on No. 13, where he holed a 25-foot putt. He then completed his day by holing a 12-foot putt to save par on No. 18.
“It’s good. It’s certainly good, because it would’ve been easy to go out there today and shoot another 4- or 5- or 6-over,” O’Meara said.
When O’Meara shot his 66 in the morning, Langer was left hoping he would be able to duplicate it in the afternoon session.
“‘Let’s do the same.’ That was really my goal,” said Langer, who instead carded his second straight 71.
“It’s tough to not get frustrated here,” the Champions Tour money leader said. “I’ve hit a number of good putts, a number of good shots that produced no result or a bad result.”
Oak Hill has surrendered only two eagles this week. Chris Starkjohann carded one Friday on the par-4 No. 14, a day after Bill Britton had one on the par-4 16.
Among those missing the cut were four-time Senior PGA champion Hale Irwin, who was 15 over after two rounds, and Fuzzy Zoeller (13 over).