Murota, Irwin tied for Senior PGA lead

Kiyoshi Murota hit his tee shot on the 18th hole, which he parred. He lost a 4-shot lead but wound up with a share of the lead.
Kiyoshi Murota hit his tee shot on the 18th hole, which he parred. He lost a 4-shot lead but wound up with a share of the lead.

LOUISVILLE — Hall of Famers Hale Irwin and Tom Watson won 11 major golf championships between them in their prime, and have added 12 majors to their trophy collections as seniors.

Kiyoshi Murota's claim to fame? About a dozen victories on Japanese tours, but nothing to brag about in his few appearances in tournaments in the United States.

It would seem that Murota would be the odd-man out going into Sunday's final round of the 72nd Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla.

Murota shares the lead with Irwin at 9-under par, one shot ahead of Watson.

But Murota, who led by four going into Saturday's play and trailed by two late in the third round, said he won't be intimidated by golfing legends Irwin and Watson.

"I don't care who's playing with me, before me or after me," he said through an interpreter. "Tomorrow's another day. I'm going to play Murota golf to the best of my ability."

After playing fantastic golf the first two days (66-67), the 55-year-old Japanese golf instructor struggled to a 74 Saturday. The lowlight came at No. 12 when he chili-dipped his second shot and took a double bogey that dropped him two shots behind Irwin.

A few holes later, Murota tweaked his back on a tee shot and had trouble catching his breath for a few seconds.

But he shook it off and parred in.

Irwin, a week shy of his 66th birthday and bidding to become the oldest winner in senior tour history, went to the par-5 18th on track to be at least a couple shots free of the field going into Sunday.

But he botched the birdie-able hole by plunking his third shot in a bunker and wound up with a double bogey.

Instead of a sparkling 68 built on solid play, he was left with a disappointing 70.

Afterward, instead of heading for the interview room, he headed for the practice range as much to cool off as work on his game.

When he did meet the press a half-hour later, he was still trying to forget the 18th.

"If I'd birdied the last hole to tie for the lead, I'd feel like this," he said, holding his hand high. "But doing what I did ... I hate double bogey. It sounds terrible."

But the philosophical side of Irwin conceded that, "If you'd told me the first of the week I'd be tied for the lead going into the last round, I would have been absolutely delighted and said, 'Let's play Sunday.' "

While Irwin is trying to win his fifth Senior PGA, Watson is seeking his second, and first in 10 years.

Watson shot a 68 Saturday thanks to flawless driving — he hit 14 of 14 fairways — and solid putting.

"That was the pretty part," Watson said.

The ugly part? He missed eight greens.

There was a reason for that. Unlike the first two days, the players weren't allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the soggy fairways.

"I had mud on every tee ball," said Watson, who was "very surprised" by the PGA's decision to play the ball down. "They could've used better sense than that. I don't want to sound like a whiner, but I'm whining."

Irwin said "a lot of eyebrows went up" among the players when they heard the PGA's decision.

"It's still squishy and muddy out there," he said. "But I'm not going to complain. What are you going to do?"

Watson's ball may have been muddied, but he was unbowed. "I did scramble well. Like the Watson of old," he said.

He's still the Watson of old when it comes to trying to win, too. Asked how he's still motivated after all he has accomplished, the 61-year-old lit up with a smile.

"I enjoy beating people. I enjoy competition. I enjoy getting in the hunt and having an opportunity to win golf tournaments," he said.

"That defines me."

Trevor Dodds, a 51-year-old Namibian whose 5-under 67 tied for the lowest score Saturday, jumped to fourth place at 7-under.

Nick Price, who was tied for second going into the third round, had a spotty afternoon and carded a 73. But he's still only three shots behind.

Defending champion Tom Lehman birdied six consecutive holes beginning at No. 9. He wound up with a 68 and is tied for fifth at 5-under.

Kentuckian Kenny Perry shot a 1-under 71 Saturday, leaving him 1 under for the tournament and tied for 19th.

Louisvillian Ted Schulz ballooned to a 78 and is 6 over.

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