For a fellow who thought that hilly MountainGate Country Club, with its tricky greens, was not his kind of course, Peter Thomson is doing rather well.
In perfect golfing weather Saturday, the veteran from Australia shot a course-record 64 to take a three-stroke lead after 36 holes of the 54-hole $250,000 Carta Blanca Seniors tournament. Thomson has a 134, which is 10 under par on the 6,500-yard course. The first-place prize is $37,500 for this group of golfers 50 and older.
Don January, who led all three rounds at Phoenix last week and was tied for the lead here after the opening round, shot a 68 but fell into second place at 137.
Friday was cold with blustery winds, but Saturday was warm with a slight breeze. Par was still elusive, however. With 18 holes left to play today, only nine golfers are under par.
Jim Ferree, who shot a 70, is third, five strokes back. Gene Littler shot a 67 and heads a trio at 141.
Art Silverstrone and Billy Casper are tied with Littler, while Charles Owens, who had to complete his first round early Saturday morning, is at 142, a stroke ahead of Paul Harney and Doug Sanders.
Harney and Sanders are familiar to most golf fans. They competed on the PGA Tour.
Silverstrone did not. The nearly bald 54-year-old golfer from New Jersey did not become a professional until he was 30 and was strictly a teaching pro until he joined the Seniors Tour in 1982.
"I just wanted to see how I would do," Silverstrone said. "Although I had to qualify on Tuesday to make it, I found I could compete."
Silverstrone won $40,000 on the tour last year, so he earned exemption for this year. Twice in 1984, he finished as high as fifth.
In the Roy Clark Challenge, he was tied for the lead going into the last round. Asked if the pressure of being in an unaccustomed spot--he played in the final group--caused him to soar to a 74 and fifth place, he said: "I never felt pressure. Hell, I never expect to win, so why would I feel pressure."
Owens, the most unorthodox player on any of the tours, had putting problems after finishing his first round three under par and tied for the lead.
In addition to swinging the club with a cross-handed grip, Owens has an unusual putting style. His putter has a 50-inch shaft, much longer than normal. He is practically a one-handed putter. With his left hand, he grips the shaft at the very top, pressing it against his chest. His right hand, down the shaft about two feet, swings the putter like a pendulum.
"None of my injuries (a fused left knee and surgery three times on the right) have anything to do with my golfing style. I am a self-taught golfer and I never had a lesson. When I have trouble with my game, I read a book--the Bible.
"I guess it was just natural for me to swing cross-handed, because that's the way I've always done it. I didn't find out until I was 14 that my swing was unorthodox. This guy I was playing told me I was doing it all wrong. I asked him how it could be wrong when he was the one who was three down.
"The putting style is the result of so many putting problems. I went to the long shaft in February of last year. Before that I had a more normal style. With my stiff leg, I can bend over, I just can't stoop."
Owens, who finished tied for fifth in the first Seniors tourney of the year in Florida, was one of six players who had to qualify to get into the MountainGate field.
Thomson, the No. 2 money leader this season and winner of the Vantage at Palm Springs two weeks ago, shot his 64 despite three-putting the second hole. However, he was nine under for the last 14 holes. His 30 on the back nine is the best on the Senior tour this year.
"I didn't really mean this wasn't my type of course," Thomson said. "What I said was it was an awkward course. Actually, I like it.
"Today, I birdied all the par 5s, and that's what we should be doing. It's also why this tournament isn't over yet.
"I like fast greens, and today I did a pretty good job of reading them. I'm not infallible, mind you, but I did get most of them to go the way I thought they should. Most of the talk in the locker room is that these greens are a mystery, very difficult to figure out."
Thomson obviously was having fun, joking with spectators and having a good time. He gave some of the credit to one of his partners, Sanders.
"Sanders is fun to play with," he said. "All his rounds should be put on tape. He has fun, too. That's what it's all about."