For the third straight day, a virtual unknown surged to the top of the leader board at the U.S. Senior Open, but if Don Pooley wants to win his first major title, he'll have to avoid the struggles that hampered first-round leader R.W. Eaks and second-round leader Walter Hall yesterday.
Both Eaks and Hall fought their way through difficult third rounds, as mental mistakes caused them to lose precious strokes. Hall, who began the day alone in the lead at 7-under par, looked stellar at the start, birdieing the first three holes. But he lost his rhythm after a poor shot with a sand wedge on the seventh hole, and from there he was erratic, bogeying five of the last 12 holes to finish at 6-under.
"I didn't play good today, but hopefully I got that out of my system," Hall said. "I just hit the ball in the rough way too many times, and you can't do that at a U.S. Open."
For Eaks, the day was maddening if only because his driver - which he'd struggled with the first two rounds - was his strength and yet he still shot his worst score of the tournament with a 78. After starting the day at 4-under, Eaks finished the day at 2-over, tied for 18th place.
"It was a strange round," said Eaks, who bogeyed the first two holes. "That was the best I've driven the ball all week. I only missed two fairways. But I only made one putt all day. That was the whole problem."
While Eaks struggled with the front nine at Caves Valley Golf Club, Hall blazed right through it with relative ease. On the first three holes he hit his approach shot to within 15 feet, and all three times he delicately rolled the ball into the cup for a birdie.
At 10-under, it looked as if Hall might be in for a stellar day. But on the seventh hole, a 536-yard par-5, he made a frustrating mistake on his third shot, a chip to a green with a steep ridge in front.
"I played two perfect shots and then just hit a bad sand wedge," Hall said. "I just dropped my concentration and I didn't get it up the hill. It was a bad shot."
Hall couldn't get the ball up and down and made bogey, and from then on he was fighting his swing the rest of the way. He bogeyed the ninth hole, then the 13th, and after getting a stroke back with a birdie on 16, he closed out his round with bogeys on 17 and 18.
"My game isn't to drive it down the middle, then hit it inside 6 feet," Hall said. "I hit it all over the lot. Hopefully I can make more birdies that bogeys. Today, I made more bogeys than birdies."
Unfortunately for Eaks, he made as many double bogeys (two) as he did birdies. On the fifth hole, his drive got plugged in a bunker, and on the 17th his drive hit a tree and went out of bounds. Even though it was a difficult day, Eaks still managed to shake it off with a smile afterward.
"I'm still having a blast," he said. "I'd been worried about my driver all week. Now I think my driver's OK, and maybe my irons will be OK, too. If I shoot under par [today], I can finish in the top 10, and that would be nice."
A top-10 finish won't be good enough for Hall. He believes he'll be relaxed playing with close friend Ed Dougherty, and even if he does get a little nervous late, Hall feels that just might work to his benefit.
"Nerves are great to a point," he said. "I think they keep you focused. I was probably more nervous after I made three birdies today than I was making three bogeys. I just want to go out and play, and whatever happens, happens."