Sunday, July 13, 2003

The Walrus shares lead with Watson, McCullough

Champions Tour rookie Stadler fires a 7-under-par 65

The Associated Press

DEARBORN, Mich. - Tom Watson stumbled at the end of the third round of the Senior Players Championship, while Craig Stadler and Mike McCullough scrambled.

The result: a three-way tie heading into the final round today in the Champions Tour major.

Watson, coming off an 8-under 64 on Friday in blustery weather, made two birdies and scrambled for several pars Saturday before making his first bogey in 37 holes at No. 17.

With a par at 18, Watson shot a 1-under 71, leaving him at 11 under and knotted with Stadler and McCullough. Stadler, aka the Walrus, shot a 65, the day's best round, and McCullough had a 68.

Watson sprinted to early leads in the past month in the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open before fading - a trend he'd like to end today.

"I'm playing with the guys I have to beat," Watson said. "That's how I like it, because I can see how they're handling the pressure. I just hope it goes better than it did at the Senior Open when (winner) Bruce (Lietzke) handled it a lot better than I did."

Five players, including first-round leader Gil Morgan and two-time champion Dave Stockton, are four shots back at 7 under.

Playing conditions Saturday - sunny and breezy - were vastly different than Friday, when the temperature barely topped 70 and wind gusts exceeded 35 mph.

The key to Stadler's round Saturday was his putter, which he used sparingly. Stadler needed only 24 putts to get around the Jack Nicklaus-designed course, including a 13-footer to save par from a greenside bunker on the final hole.

"I putted consistently well today, and I hadn't done that in ages," Stadler said. "It's nice to get over a putt and feel like you've got more than a 1 percent chance of knocking it in."

Stadler, a Champions Tour rookie, birdied three of the first four holes and had another birdie at No. 8 to shoot an outward 32.

McCullough, who has a history of solid play in this event, also had a stellar save for par from the bunker at No. 18. He played his way into Sunday's final group despite hitting just 10 of 18 greens.

"I hit some terrible shots today, but I was able to save myself with some putts," said McCullough, who plays in sandals. "I've been lucky to miss in places where I can salvage something."

McCullough tied for second in last year's Senior Players Championship, tied for sixth in 2001 and tied for fourth in 2000.

Nicklaus was at 5 over after a 71.

Andy North, alone in second and two shots behind Watson after Friday's play, faded quickly in the third round with a 40 on the front. He finished with a 4-over 76 and stands at 4 under for the tournament, tied for 11th.

Defending champion Stewart Ginn shot a 73 and is even for the tournament.

The Champions Tour corrected itself Saturday, saying golfer and TV analyst Gary McCord's father was "very seriously ill." Earlier, the tour announced McCord withdrew because his father died.

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