EDMOND — While most players were trying to post pars and move on to the next hole Saturday afternoon at Oak Tree National, Gene Sauers went on a birdie binge to grab the lead heading into the final round of the U.S. Senior Open.
Sauers, a veteran player who didn’t play golf for seven years, shot a 3-under-par 68 to build a three-shot lead over Bernhard Langer and Scott Dunlap.
“Being a U.S. Open champion is a dream for everybody, even as a Senior Champion,” Sauers said. “I lost to Nick Price at the ’92 PGA but after everything I’ve been through the last three, four years it’s remarkable I’m in the position I’m in right now.”
The only player to shoot under-par all three rounds, Sauers first stepped away from golf because of burnout. Then three years ago, he thought he would never play golf again when blackened skin spots started appearing on his arms and legs.
Informed he probably only had a 25 percent chance to survive, Sauers was hospitalized for two months. Doctors took skin grafts from various parts of his body, using staples to attach good skin to raw areas where blackened patches were removed.
“At first they thought I might have lupus or Wegener’s” Sauers said. “They were treating with me all these drugs. The next thing you now, six or eight months later the drug interaction burned me from the inside out, but I pulled through.”
That’s why Sauers views being atop the U.S. Senior Open leaderboard as a blessing after he leapfrogged Langer and Colin Montgomerie during Saturday’s third round.
The native of Savannah, Ga., who notched birdies on Nos. 7, 12, 16 and 18, compared trying to navigate Oak Tree’s demanding par-71 Pete Dye designed layout to playing in the Masters.
“This course makes you concentrate more,” Sauers said. “You have to hit your tee shots in certain areas and pick specific points on the greens. It’s like the greens at Augusta, sort of like putting on this table top.”
Sauers paused knocked on the table and added: “At the end of the day you’re worn out because you concentrated so much.”
When asked about Sunday possibly being the hottest day of the tournament, Sauers confessed he played Saturday with a cold.