So far, the pressure of being atop the leaderboard for two solid days hasn't affected Ben Smith, the former auto mechanic who is on the verge of a $52,500 payday at the Showdown Classic golf tournament.
All Smith did Saturday at the Jeremy Ranch Golf Club was add a 5-under-par 67 to the 66 he fired Friday and doubled his lead to four shots going into Sunday's round.However, one of those lurking in second place is defending champion Miller Barber, who, if he wins this tournament for the third time, may have it named after him.
Barber fired a 5-under-par 67, despite complaining about too-slow greens for the second straight day. He's tied at 137 with Jim Cochran, who had a 69.
Smith, Barber and Cochran will tee off together in the final threesome of the day at 12:30 p.m.
Others still in contention include five players at 139 - Orville Moody, Charles Coody, Don Bies, Dick Rhyan and Gordon Waldespuhl. Bruce Crampton, last year's runner-up, is all alone at 140 after a 67, while three golfers, Bobby Nichols, Walter Zembriski and Charles Owens are at 141.
Smith has never won a Senior tournament before; in fact, the biggest victory of his life was something called the Center (Texas) Invitational, which he won in 1982. His best finish on the Senior Tour was a second at Vancouver in 1985.
Last year he had the lead at Seattle with nine holes to play, and three years ago he led at San Antonio for two rounds. But even though he folded down the stretch in both tournaments, he's not worried about the pressure affecting him Sunday.
"It doesn't bother me," he said. "If someone plays well and beats me tomorrow, more power to them. I'll play as hard as I can and hope it goes the other way."
Smith started off Saturday like he was going to run off and hide so far away that nobody could catch him Sunday.
He birdied the first three holes, and by the time he finished the front nine he had a 6-under-par 30 and a six-shot lead over Coody.
At that point, Smith said he was "hoping they'd cancel the next 27 holes."
He fell back to earth with a bogey at No. 11 and was lucky to bogey 16 after hitting in the creek off the tee. He needed a 12-footer to save bogey.
"I didn't think I was ever going to get to the clubhouse," he said.
He finished in style, however, sinking a 12-foot birdie putt that circled the hole before dropping at No. 18.
Cochran, playing with Smith for the second straight day, also rolled in a birdie putt at 18 to stay within four shots.
"After Ben made his, I figured I'd better make mine," he said.
Cochran had found himself behind by eight shots after the seventh hole when he hit a bad drive into the creek.
"After that hole, I said, `You'd better get with it.' Things were a little rocky at first, but I finally got my jalopy in gear," he said.
Cochran birdied the next two holes, bogeyed 12, before coming back with birds at 16 and 18.
"Ben's playing fantastic, and, if he plays that way tomorrow, he'll be tough to catch," said Cochran. "But I like where I am right now."
Barber also said he was happy to be where he is, which is actually a stroke better than last year at this point. But he didn't want to sound too confident even though his top two competitors are relative "no-names."
"It'll be hard to catch Ben, unless he has a spasm," said Barber. "Hopefully I can play as well as today, and if I do I'll have a good chance."
Barber complained again about the greens, saying, "They're too doggone soft." He'd prefer them to be firmer, which favors fast-green putters like himself.
"I think the greenskeeper is overreacting a little bit. I've never seen footprints in these greens before like this week. These are a marvelous set of greens, but the ball is reacting different than it ever has refore."
Perhaps Mr. X was just trying to influence the greenskeeper a bit because nobody else was heard complaining about the slower greens.
Rhyan, who finished second in the national senior qualifying tournament last year, had the shot of the tournament when he holed out from 242 yards out with a 5-wood for a double-eagle 2 at the par-5 16th hole. It was the third double-eagle on the Senior Tour this year and the second of Rhyan's career. He also had an eagle at No. 9 when he chipped in from 70 yards.
"That was a crazy round of golf today," said Rhyan. "I either had it in there close, or I had to fight for my life. But that's the kind of golf course this is."
Even though he is six shots off the pace, Rhyan wasn't discounting his chances for Sunday.
"The way this golf course is, anything can happen. You could possibly shoot a 66 or 67 (Sunday) and have a good chance of winning," he said.
Coody had one of the better rounds going as he went to 6-under through 13 holes. However, he bogeyed 14 when he hit a poor chip shot and then bogeyed 17 when he 3-putted from 40 feet.
Moody was 1-over for the day when he bogeyed No. 6, but he chipped in for eagle at the par-4 seventh hole, then birdied 10, 11, 12 and 14 before bogeying No. 17.
SHOWDOWN NOTES: Showdown officials announced that the tournament will be back but will move back to August again next year . . . Peter Thomson, who was in third at the start of the day, put himself in contention with an eagle-2 at No. 10, but he quickly fell out with a triple-bogey 6 at No. 11. He eventually finished with a 75 for a 144 total . . . Joe Campbell withdrew after shooting an 83 Saturday . . . The Utahns in the Showdown were all bunched together after two rounds _ Ogden's Tommy Williams and Park City's Lanny Nielsen are at 152, Hidden Valley pro Don Johnson stands at 153, and Dick Peacock is at 155 after a 72 Saturday. Former Utahn Bill Johnston was just ahead of that bunch at 151.
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