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Nicklaus contends at Senior Open

He takes lead as weather forces delay in third round

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PEABODY, Mass. — The crowd thundered with applause for Jack Nicklaus, and the skies soon followed.

Nicklaus had an eagle and two birdies over the last five holes to shoot a 69 Saturday, making him the leader in the clubhouse at 2 over when thunder, lightning and torrential rain forced the last seven groups from the course and knocked out power at the Salem Country Club.

Even his opponents added a cheer for the golf great in search of another major victory.

"I'd love to see him win this golf tournament," said Dana Quigley, who was among the 14 golfers still playing when the third round of the U.S. Senior Open was suspended due to the weather.

"It's great for our tour if he wins," said Quigley, who was 1 over through 14 holes. "We're all going to try to beat him tomorrow, no question about it. But it shows he still has the heart. I don't think his game is as good as it was, but he's got the heart."

Jim Colbert also eagled No. 14, then birdied 15 to move to the top of the leaderboard at 1 under when play was called. After about 90 minutes of rain, the golfers were called together in the darkened clubhouse and told they could go home.

Play was scheduled to resume today at 7 a.m., "assuming we can get the golf course in shape to play," USGA spokesman Marty Parkes said. A pond on 18 was flooded, and one fan bodysurfed on the 17th fairway.

"There's a lot of debris blown out of the trees," said Tim Moraghan, the USGA's director of championship agronomy. "Nothing we can't work through."

The final round was to begin at 9:15 a.m., with the players teeing off on the front and back nines in threesomes rather than twosomes because of the threat of more bad weather Sunday afternoon.

"The weather forecast for tomorrow is not much different than today," Parkes said.

Nicklaus won 18 majors on the PGA Tour and eight more as a senior — he has 80 wins in all — but he hasn't challenged for a major since the 1998 Masters. He finished fourth at the Senior PGA Tour's Siebel Classic in March.

"I haven't been in contention for so long, I can't remember how long it's been. . . . It feels good," he said. "(Making up three strokes on Colbert), that's nothing. That can happen in one hole. I don't look at that as being very much."

With temperatures in the 90s, Nicklaus began the day at 3 over and his shirt already soaked through with sweat. He dropped to 6 over with a bogey on No. 10, but he eagled 14 with a 17-foot putt, chipped in for a birdie on 17 and got a nice bank off the edge of the fringe to set up a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 18.

"To take a round from 3 over to 1 over, it changes your whole outlook. Eagles are big deals," he said. After chipping in at 17, "The crowd went berserk. And so did I."

Jay Sigel shot a 6-under-par 64 to tie a tournament record and was second in the clubhouse, tied with Allen Doyle, who had a 68. Isao Aoki, who led after two rounds, was on the 13th hole at 1 over for the round and even par for the tournament, tied with Larry Nelson.

Four golfers still on the course were at 1 over, including first-round leader Bruce Fleisher, Gil Morgan and Quigley. For the third consecutive day, only one golfer spent the night under par.

"I don't know what kind of day Sigel had," Quigley said. "He made us all look silly."