OMAHA, Neb. – Epiphanies don’t come on command, even for a guy who has won a U.S. Open title, 16 PGA Tour events in all, and has been playing competitive golf over the span of five decades.
Somehow, Corey Pavin found his Rosetta Stone, at least for one day, and the result was a sterling 6-under-par 64 Saturday at the U.S. Senior Open, which tied for the best round of the day with Kenny Perry. Pavin didn’t make a bogey at the hilly but hospitable Omaha Country Club, and he will begin the final round of the 34th U.S. Senior Open in fourth place, just four strokes behind Michael Allen, after starting the day in a tie for 25th.
A practice session Friday afternoon following a dyspeptic 73 paid dividends for the 1995 U.S. Open winner. He struck the ball more solidly, and what mistakes he did make he was able to erase with the same short game that has served him well over the years.
“It was a very different day from yesterday,” said Pavin, 53, after beating Friday’s score by nine strokes. “I really struggled yesterday. I went out on the range and worked on it. Found a little key to help me with my swing. I hit it better today, played smarter. When I did hit a bad shot, I made some good up and downs. It was just a nice, solid round.”
Pavin, who always has had to overcome being one of the shorter hitters in professional golf, has a tendency to take the club too far outside, which results in oblique strikes on the ball. He loses distance, which he can ill afford.
The solid shots he struck in the warm sunshine Saturday came from rerouting his swing plane more to the inside.
“You know, I've been working on trying to get the club more inside. I’ve been doing that for about 40 years now, and I’m still working on it,” he said. “If I'm mishitting it a little bit, I'm in big trouble, like yesterday.”
Pavin encountered few troubles in Round 3, hitting 12 of 13 fairways and 13 greens in regulation. He kick-started his round with a kick-in birdie at the par-3 fifth hole, using the slope to guide a 5-iron to within one inch of the cup.
He followed a 5-foot birdie putt at the sixth with a 3-wood to 8 feet for another birdie at the long par-4 eighth hole. Pavin made a 25-footer at 11 and two 7-footers at 12 and 13 to round out his birdie run.
The performance gave Pavin, who has just one Champions Tour title, a real chance to win the Senior Open for the second straight year. Last year at Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich., he began the final round in second place and shot a respectable 68, but finished joint second behind Roger Chapman.
That he found such an effective adjustment at a crucial time will help him sleep better before the final round. Well, maybe.
“I'm not one to lose sleep no matter what position I'm in or how I'm playing,” he said. “Keep my fingers crossed and hopefully it will work tomorrow.”
He’ll need it tomorrow. He has ground to make up.
“You never know what can happen,” Pavin cautioned. “When the USGA sets up the golf course, funny things can happen on Sunday. I’ve seen it time and time again. Probably going to need a little help, but we’ll see what happens out there. But nevertheless, I could just play the best I can, and that’s all I can do.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.