Ed Dougherty did what many of his competitors couldn't.
He played a safe and solid round Saturday in the third round of the Senior Players Championship, the final senior major of the year.
Dougherty shot 4-under 68 to take a one-stroke lead, while the leaderboard was jumbled because of gusting wind and bone-dry fairways and greens.
"I just wanted to play fairways and greens," said Dougherty, who has never won a major. "Normally on this tour, you have to go really low to win. But this is a week where par is a good score again. You can't attack the course. You've got to keep the ball in the middle of the fairway and the middle of the green."
Dougherty, the TD Waterhouse winner in May, has an 11-under 205 total on the TPC of Michigan. Allen Doyle was a stroke back after a 70, and Tom Watson (72) and Doug Tewell (67) were two back at 207.
Watson began the round tied for the lead with Hale Irwin at 9 under, but dropped five strokes on the first six holes.
"I was on the mat," Watson said. "I had to pick up the pieces."
Watson had three birdies and an eagle on the final 10 holes. He said the par he saved with an 8-foot putt on the 14th was more important than his eagle or birdies.
"Obviously I'm grateful to be back in contention," said Watson, who won the Senior PGA Championship two months ago.
Irwin shot 75 to finish at 6 under. He double bogeyed Nos. 15 and 16, to drop from 9 under to 5 under. If he doesn't come back to win, it would mark the first year he hasn't won a major since joining the senior tour in 1995.
"That was a disaster," Irwin said. "I've been saying all along that I wasn't playing well. Now I need to go back to the drawing board. I just fooled everybody by making every putt yesterday."
Defending champion Ray Floyd and Gil Morgan shot 69s to reach 7 under, and Irwin was in a group at 6 under with Mike McCullough (68), Tom Kite (71) and U.S. Senior Open winner Bruce Fleisher (72).
Lee Trevino, the 61-year-old star playing in his final major, shot 75 for a 2-over 218 total.
Dougherty tied for 21st last week in the Farmers Charity Classic in Ada, his best finish since winning in Kansas City, Mo. He missed the cut two weeks ago in the U.S. Senior Open.
He broke out of his struggles with a 67 in the first round, his best round since his win in May.
Dougherty said the key to keeping the lead through the final round will be how he does on the four par-5s _ Nos. 3, 7, 13 and 17 _ all of which have been reachable in two shots.
"I need to pick up a couple shots on those holes to win," said Dougherty, who has won two senior events and one PGA Tour title.