The Senior PGA Tour might be a traveling Hall of Fame, but for golfers who never made their fortunes like the Arnold Palmers and Lee Trevinos of the world, it offers the ultimate second chance.
Kermit Zarley is a wonderful case in point.
It has been eight years since he was in contention to win a golf tournament, and when he quit playing the PGA Tour in 1982, he never figured the opportunity would be there again.
A writing career followed, and golf became what it is for so many others _ recreation rather than competition.
But today, Zarley finds himself one more good round away from winning the GTE Suncoast Classic. After a 3-under-par 68 on Saturday, Zarley leads by one shot.
"I enjoy the competition," said Zarley, who finished 36 holes at the TPC of Tampa Bay at Cheval at 133, 9 under par. "It's hard for me to get revved up to go out and play at home. I'm not what you call a player. I used to practice a lot, but an injury stopped that. But I do enjoy tournament golf."
Of course, shooting under par on a difficult golf course and playing for $450,000 in prize money can be big motivations. The $67,500 that goes to the winner easily would surpass any one-tournament payday Zarley ever had.
Chasing him today will be some formidable competition. This is only the fourth senior event for Zarley, who became eligible with his 50th birthday last September. But the nine players directly behind him have a combined 68 senior tour victories.
George Archer and Bobby Nichols are a shot back at 134, with Gary Player at 135 and Jim Colbert, after a 70, at 6-under-par 136. Al Geiberger is 5 under, with Lee Trevino, Larry Mowry, Don Massengale and Bob Charles in a group at 138, 4 under.
Player shot the best round of the day, a 6-under 66 that included five birdies on the back nine. Player knew things were going his way when, at the par-5 seventh hole, his tee shot stopped inches from the water. He took off his shoes and socks, put on his rain gear, and went after the ball with a 5-iron. He advanced it far enough to hit a driver to the left of the green, then chipped close for a par.
After birdies on the 11th, 12th, 13th and 17th holes, Player drove into a fairway bunker on 18. From 190 yards, he knocked a 4-iron on the green to 15 feet and drained the birdie putt.
"It's sure going to be exciting," said Player, 56, who has won 16 times on the senior tour in addition to 21 regular tour victories and dozens more around the world. "Tampa is one of the best places to play on the tour. So many people out there. It's like Augusta. And they're very enthusiastic. It's fantastic."
The tournament set a single-day attendance record Saturday with an announced crowd of 37,162 fans.
Despite the difficulty of the 18th, it produced several birdies Saturday. That was because the hole played downwind. Players blasted drives well down the fairway in position for short iron shots to the green.
Still, scores soared. Only 18 players broke par _ compared to 32 Friday _ and several players shot themselves out of contention.
"I'm amazed I'm here," said Archer, who had three birdies on the back nine and shot 68. "I made only one putt all day, and that was on the 17th hole. It wasn't very exciting."
But Archer, who won three times and more than $960,000 last year, is in good position to win his ninth senior tour event. Nichols, meanwhile, will be trying for only his second.
The winner of 11 PGA Tour events _ including the 1962 St. Petersburg Open _ Nichols has been less of a success on the senior tour. His only victory in six years came in 1989.
"I've had a lot of chances, but I haven't produced," said Nichols, 55, who lives in Fort Myers.
Zarley, who won two tournaments on the PGA Tour, hasn't won since the 1984 Tallahassee Open, then an event on the Tournament Players Series, a satellite of the PGA Tour. He beat Denis Watson in a playoff, then went on to writing books _ which he said did little to prepare him for the difficulty that faces him today.
"Totally different," he said. "There's no pressure in writing. When you get a contract, you have dates you have to meet. But pressure? No way. Not even close."
But like most of the seniors who are getting another shot at fame and fortune, Zarley will take it.
leads at Tucson
TUCSON, Ariz. _ Dudley Hart shot 65 for a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Northern Telecom Open.
"There are so many guys within striking distance, you blink your eyes and four of them will go by you," the 23-year-old Hart said.
Hart, a second-year tour pro, takes a lead into the final round for the first time in his career.
Mike Hulbert, Ken Green and Bruce Fleisher were one shot back. Curtis Strange led a group of seven at 205, two behind.
_ Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.