Woody Austin takes lead, but 10 others in striking range at Hualalai
If Woody Austin looks over his shoulder at the start of today’s final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai he’d better bring his sunglasses. There’s so much star power chasing after him, he just might be blinded by the light.
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HUALALAI, Hawaii >> If Woody Austin looks over his shoulder at the start of today’s final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai he’d better bring his sunglasses. There’s so much star power chasing after him, he just might be blinded by the light.
In windy conditions coming northeast off the ocean, Austin crafted a 4-under 68 Friday to drop to 11-under 133, one shot clear of three-time Hualalai winner Bernhard Langer (70—134) to hold the 36-hole lead in this winners-only tournament. Austin said he’s pulling for more ocean breezes in today’s final round or he doesn’t like his chances, especially if it becomes a shootout.
Not only is Langer hot on his spikes, 2015 winner Miguel Angel Jimenez (71) and Fred Couples (68) are another shot back at 9-under 135, with 10 golfers within four shots of Austin’s pace cart. Couples has done everything here but win it. In nine previous appearances at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course, Couples has three runner-up finishes, one third and eight top-10s.
The 60-year-old Couples, who is probably the senior tour’s favorite son, has pocketed a little less than $1 million here, the most of any golfer who hasn’t hoisted the trophy on the weekend. For most of the back nine Couples either led or was tied for the lead before Austin came home with birdies at 14 and 18 to put a little distance between him and one of 11 Hall of Fame golfers in the field.
That elite list includes rookie Ernie Els, who went out early before the wind kicked up and fired a 7-under 65 for the best round of the day. He opened with a 72 on Friday in his first senior circuit start and was tied for 30th in a field of 38 golfers. He will begin today’s final round tied for eighth at 7-under 135 and will be paired with Marco Dawson, the last golfer in at 8 under for the tournament.
As for Austin, he doesn’t want to think too much about the stars of the past chasing him. He’d rather focus on putting a little better and keeping his mind clear of the talented golfers in this field.
“I’ve got to sharpen up the putter,” Austin said. “I three-putted three times in two days. Unfortunately for me, the morning guys got away without the wind. I need the wind. At least it keeps all the guys who started with me from getting away from me. The other guys (who went off in the morning) caught up, but at least the guys with me, because of the wind that we had to deal with all afternoon, they didn’t get away from me.”
Langer said the wind coming out of the southwest in Thursday’s opening round was just the opposite of what they had to deal with Friday. He also thought it had to be at least 5-10 mph stronger. Where Langer noticed it most was on the par-5s. He birdied all four in the opening round and only the 10th in the second.
“The par-5s were a lot harder,” Langer said. “I reached all the par-5s in the first round, only one today. Just a harder wind for some reason the way the holes lay out. The greens are a little slower than normal. And then the ball starts bouncing around and it’s hard to keep it online. I felt I played as well as I did (in the first round). Just didn’t score as well.”
Couples had a similar refrain in his post-round interview.
“It was good and then sloppy at the end,” Couples said of the weather. “I’m in great shape. I didn’t really look at the board much (something Langer said as well.) I haven’t won in a while. I’ve won a few tournaments and I’ve lost a lot of them. So (today) is just really another day. You’ve got to go out and have a really good round. There’s going to be four or five or six other guys doing the same, so we’ll see what happens.”
The scoring in Friday’s second round was higher than in the first, with a scoring average of 70.500. In the first, it was a blistering 69.447 with 17 rounds in the 60s. There were only 11 on Friday, with the hardest hole being the par-3 eighth, where there was only one birdie for the day, by Steve Flesch. The two easiest holes on the senior tour last year were the par-5 10th at 4.270 and the par-5 seventh at 4.300.