"Gary has the advantage," said Charles, shaken. "I blew the tournament today, and now he has a chance to win it tomorrow."
So Medinah No. 3 had refused to allow anyone to break its 72-hole par of 288. Although the course had been shortened—from the 7,000-plus-yard monster that it will be when the club hosts the 1990 U.S. Open to a less ferocious 6,881 yards—Medinah was still the toughest course ever used for a Senior Open. Even with ideal conditions, the average score for the entire field was 78. There were only three rounds in the 60's besides Player's playoff 68, and during the week there was not one eagle.
Long as the course was, it was Medinah's fast, sloping greens, called "cruel and diabolical" by Charles, that drove the twitchy seniors to distraction. The exception, at least for two rounds, was Billy Casper. On Thursday, Casper took only 26 putts to shoot a 69, which tied him for the lead with Walter Zembriski. On Friday, it looked as if Casper, still putting well, might cruise to a second Senior Open title—he won in 1983—to match his two U.S. Opens. His 71 put him at 140 and gave him a three-shot lead.
But the 57-year-old Casper opened the third round with a bogey on the first hole and followed with a double bogey on the second when he stroked a five-foot par putt 20 feet long. He never recovered, eventually finishing in a tie for 10th at 294.
Into the breach jumped Zembriski, a 53-year-old former painter/steel-worker/mini-tour player who learned the game at the Out of Bounds Golf Club in Mahwah, N.J. While making four front-nine birdies on Saturday, Zembriski was higher than he had been when he earned his living by walking the beams of unfinished skyscrapers. He led until he hit his tee shot at the 17th into the water. When he did it again, he had a quadruple-bogey 7, which sent him on his way to oblivion.
Now the leaders were Player and Charles. Both were struggling with their putters but somehow pulling out a bundle of pars. It was a formula that worked at Medinah, and it was no accident that each hit 53 of the 72 greens in regulation to lead the field.
All weekend Player had counted on his brand of relentless golf to win. He was thankful he could take the same approach into the playoff.
"A major championship means too much to a man's career to be decided by one hole," said Player. "Even 18 holes is too short. Anything can happen."
Even Gary Player becoming the best player in history? Better get out there, Jack.