It’s rather enlightening what good players can do to a receptive golf course when they’re not weighed down by rain gear and mud flaps.
Beneath a bright blue dome Saturday — a break from the sodden slogs that have become something of a TPC Sugarloaf tradition — the members of the Champions Tour basked like lions at midday on the sunny side of par.
If you think the over-50 guys can’t still take apart a course with extreme prejudice, consult Colin Montgomerie.
After his 6-under 66 in Saturday’s second round of the Mitsubishi Electric Classic positioned him within one of the lead, Montgomery was positively high on all the low numbers being posted.
“I think the scoring is quite phenomenal,” said Montgomerie, who speaks from the platform of a World Golf Hall of Fame member.
“I thought when I joined the Champions Tour this would be a bit of a holiday, you know, but it’s not,” the 52-year-old Montgomerie said with a sly smile. “This is serious stuff. I thought this was sort of a retirement tour. Hardly. Cripe, hardly.”
Montgomerie was one of 18 players in the 81-man field to venture into the 60s on Saturday. All told, 35 of them were below par 72.
Your leader after two rounds is Wes Short Jr., who is neither very short — he ranks sixth in driving distance on the Champions Tour — nor particularly junior — he’s 52, after all. Aside from the misleading name, his game was the truth, as he shot a 67 to go 7 under for the tournament. Aside from almost braining a young bystander after flipping a wedge in disgust on No. 18, Short’s shot-making and judgment were spot on.
Short falls neatly into the grinder category, a fellow who has won a single time in 189 PGA Tour and Web.com appearances (2005, in Las Vegas). His second act on the over-50 Champions Tour has been a smashing success, encompassing one victory and as much prize money in a little more than two seasons ($1.8 million) out here as he made in his previous 12 years as a pro.
You are never too old to have a new experience on a course. Not once as a pro has Short led or shared a lead going into the final round. “I always sneak up on ’em,” the Texan said.
How he will react to running the point is one prominent Sunday storyline.
Of the physiological effects of being in that position Short said, “I think guys would be lying if they said their heart doesn’t beat a little bit faster.
“You’ve just got to get used to the way that everything seems to speed up a little bit when you’re in contention and you’ve got to calm yourself down.”
After that, it is one big cluster. The leaderboard is as overcrowded with 50-somethings as the deck of a Danube river cruise. There are 24 players within five strokes of Short’s lead.
First a moment of remembrance for one who was left behind Saturday.
All the trouble that overlooked Tom Watson on Friday developed a sudden appetite for 66-year-old Hall of Famer. Shortly after the first-round co-leader was out of sight of the clubhouse Saturday he was set upon and dragged away from the ranks of the contenders.
Back-to-back double bogeys will do that. Vying to become the oldest winner on the Champions Tour, Watson could not contend with the fairway sand on the otherwise very-green TPC Sugarloaf layout. First on the par 4 No. 3, he went from fairway bunker to the wild grass and to an eventual 6. Then, on the next hole, a par 5, his second attempt to escape a fairway bunker rinsed itself clean in the creek bordering the green. Watson ended the day with a 76, and stood tied for 35th.
But look who else is lurking. A couple of clues: He has a Monty Python warm-up routine; his most cherished items are his humidor, his wine collection and his golf clubs (in no particular order), and he avoids barber shears as if they were bogeys.
Miguel Angel Jimenez, who won his Champions Tour debut here in 2014, shot 67 on Saturday and is only two off the lead.
Of local interest, Atlanta’s Billy Andrade, a three-time Champions Tour winner last year, is right there with Jimenez, one of six players at 5 under.
And, Watson aside, it was a spirited competition for low former Ryder Cup captain Sunday. Your results: Montgomerie 66 (6 under overall) Tom Lehman 67 (4 under) and Corey Pavin 71 (1 under).
And that is but a sampling. Pretty much anybody with an AARP card and a caddie is in range.
The one factor they all share is the ability to occasionally summon the low score. The need to call upon that skill will be high again Sunday.
“I’ve got to be looking at 66 again to have a chance,” Montgomerie said.
Granted, they’re not as flexible as they used to be, but somebody is going to have to limbo pretty low beneath par to win this thing.