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Lietzke shoots 64, heads into last day up by 4

He called it the best day of his 29-year career

SHARE Lietzke shoots 64, heads into last day up by 4

TOLEDO, Ohio — Bruce Lietzke has spent a lifetime traveling to golf courses, cashing checks and winning tournaments.

Never before had he had a day like he did on an overcast Saturday in the U.S. Senior Open.

Lietzke shot a 7-under 64 — which he called the finest round of his 29-year pro career — to take a four-stroke lead into the final round at Inverness Club.

"This would probably have to be at the top," the big Texan said.

Lietzke's 64 — which included five birdies on the home nine — left him at 9-under 204. He has never before won a major championship, although he's had close calls over a long and productive career.

In 52 major championships — five as a senior and the rest while on the PGA Tour — Lietzke's best finish is a second to John Daly in the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick. His best previous finish in an Open was a tie for 17th at Merion in 1981.

His lowest previous round in a major was a 66 in the final round of The Tradition a year ago.

"I've had 62s on the PGA and Champions Tours," he said. "I've had tons of good rounds. But figuring how hard the golf course is . . . that's probably the greatest round I've ever had."

Allen Doyle, one of only four people in the field under par through 54 holes, said he was shaken by how well Lietzke is playing.

"He's just been phenomenal," said Doyle, in fourth place but eight shots behind Lietzke. "Every key putt he had to make, he made. He was never better than today."

Vicente Fernandez, who started the day with a one-stroke lead over Tom Watson, shot a 71 and was tied with Watson for second place at 5-under 208. Watson had a 70 that included pars on his final 10 holes.

Lietzke opened and closed his round with birdies. In between, he never seemed to be out of position and seldom hit a bad shot — or at least one from which he couldn't recover.

His 64 was five strokes better than the next best score in the third round — just as Fernandez's 64 was the day before. Lietzke's round featured nine birdies.

"I didn't think that was going to be possible," he said. "I don't have any strategies. I always believe golf is a reactionary sport. You hit a drive and then react to it. Then you hit a shot to the green and react to that. I didn't think that anyone would have those kinds of opportunities."

Lietzke played the final 10 holes in 6 under, again and again pulling off stunning shots as he skirted trouble with sometimes errant drives.

After letting a share of the lead slip away with two bogeys on the front side, Lietzke hit a 7 iron to 16 feet at the bunker-surrounded ninth hole to pull within a shot of Watson's lead.

He pulled even at No. 11, coming out of the heavy rough with a 9 iron approach that ended up 6 inches from the pin.

Lietzke then strung together three birdies in a row to take command.

At the par-5 13th, he reached the green in two and almost made his 30-foot eagle putt — settling for a tap-in birdie.

At the next hole, he found the deep rough off the tee and didn't want to take the risk of hitting over the green. So he purposely hit short, leaving himself with a 71-foot chip shot that he dropped softly on the front of the green. It rolled right up to the cup and dove in.

At the 15th hole, he hit a 7 iron to 8 feet to get to 8 under and a three-shot lead, then closed it out by rolling in a 16-footer for birdie on the 18th green before a huge gallery.

All week long, the world's greatest seniors had said no one could win the Open without keeping the ball in the fairway at old-school Inverness Club. Yet Lietzke hit just seven of a possible 15 fairways in his 64.

One of the longest hitters on the Champions Tour, Lietzke lamented before the tournament that he couldn't hit his driver very often on the narrow fairways. So far, he hasn't needed it.

Fernandez had trouble off the tee all day as well, but he was unable to scramble for pars — or even better — as Lietzke did. He had four birdies but offset them with four bogeys.

"Overall, to be honest, my score was better than I played," Fernandez said after his 71. "I missed a lot of fairways and that can't happen on this course."

That, however, was something Lietzke might dispute.

Watson failed to make the long putts that had marked his opening-round 66. He had numerous birdie opportunities down the stretch but didn't make any.

"I was backpedaling there on the back nine, seeing Bruce do what he did," Watson said. "Desperation hasn't set in yet. But I'd like to see if I can get a little closer tomorrow and put some pressure on him."

Lietzke won 13 times on the PGA Tour and has won six more tournaments since joining the senior circuit in 2001. He tied for third behind John Jacobs earlier this year at the Senior PGA Championship, the first major of the year.

"I chipped in on one and made a whole bunch of putts and I got lucky a few times," Lietzke said. "But I've got news for you: All those guys who have won Opens have all had some lucky breaks."

ST. JUDE CLASSIC: In Memphis, Tenn., Sweden's Richard Johnson shot a steady 2-under 69, giving the PGA Tour rookie a one-stroke lead over David Toms after three rounds of the St. Jude Classic.

Johnson, trying to win his first PGA Tour title in just his 14th start, had a 14-under 199 total. Toms birdied two of his final three holes for a 65. He will be looking for his second victory this year and ninth in his career.

Tim Herron (65), Lee Janzen (67), Fredrik Jacobson (68) and David Peoples (70) were two strokes back. Ben Crane (64) was at 202, and Notah Begah (64) and third-round co-leader John Huston (73) were in a group at 203.

FRENCH OPEN: In Versailles, France, England's Philip Golding shot a 4-under 68 to take a one-stroke lead in the French Open.

Golding, who has a record 16 visits to the European tour's qualifying school in his winless career, was at 12-under 204.

Second-round leader Thomas Bjorn of Denmark (71) was a stroke back along with Pierre Fulke (67), Peter O'Malley (66), Barry Lane (67) and David Howell (69).