If you didn't have a hole-out, chip-in, eagle or course record in the Kemper Open yesterday, you were a poor exception. The roars came thick and fast in the third round at par-71 TPC at Avenel, propelling Steve Jones into a three-stroke lead with the help of a hole-in-one.
Jones rode a swell of noise that erupted when he aced the infamous ninth hole. His 8-iron shot spun on a bank and slid in the cup as if on a string, en route to a 65 and a 11-under-par 202 total going into today's final round. It was his first ace in competition.
"Those help," he said.
The four players trailing at 205 had feats almost as spectacular. Clark Burroughs chipped in three times in his first six holes, eagling twice, en route to a 66. Joel Edwards tied the course record of 64, originally set by Tom Kite in 1987. Gil Morgan, the second-round leader, was one of those exceptions who had a routine day with a 70. Scott Hoch, a stroke behind Morgan at the start of the round, answered a double bogey at the par-3 11th with an eagle at par-5 13th for a 69.
A group of five at 207 included a thoroughly frightening pair: two-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin and 1987 Kemper winner Kite, the PGA Tour's all-time leading money winner. Irwin, who turns 45 today and hasn't won since 1985, shot an elegant 65 reminiscent of better days with four straight birdies. Kite, who also was the 1988 Kemper runner-up, leaped into contention when he holed out a bunker shot from off the 18th green for a 67.
So Jones's lead, while generous, was not totally secure. Especially not with 6,917-yard Avenel doling out such magnanimous gifts, in hot and hazy conditions that invited low scoring. Counting Jones's ace, five eagles were distributed across the leader board.
Jones is one of those stylish if less-than-charismatic players, a rangy 6 feet 4 of amiableness who is No. 27 on the money list. He had three prestigious victories last year, including the first two of the season, in the Tournament of Champions and Bob Hope Classic, and in the Canadian Open. He is heavy-jawed and emotionless, and his reaction to his hole in one was stolid.
"I got away with a few today," he said. "I need them. I'll take all I can get."
Jones's round was routine and mostly par until he reached the ninth -- the 166-yard, cliff-like par-3 surrounded by a creek. The pin was set forward, and his 8-iron traveled 162 yards, bounced gently on a slope and curled into the cup. "It hit on the right bank and spun in the hole," he said.
But that was merely the start. He birdied the 10th with a 9-iron shot to eight feet, which meant he had gained three strokes in just two holes. At the 524-yard, par-5 13th, he reached the green in two with a 3-iron and two-putted from 25 feet for another birdie, before settling down for four straight pars. A crucial one came at the 195-yard 17th, where he badly missed the green and nearly bounded on to the cart path. "It went left, left, left," he said. "I felt it slipping away."
But he chipped from a grassy embankment to three feet and sank the putt. A last birdie came at the 444-yard, par-4 18th, where he staked a 7-iron shot to 15 feet and sank the wobbling putt.
"It was my day today," he said. "We'll see if it's my day tomorrow."
For freakish good fortune, however, Burroughs far outdid Jones. He chipped in on the first two holes and again on the sixth, the latter two shots for his eagles. "It was pretty lucky," he said.
At the 393-yard, par-4 first, he spun in a 20-foot wedge shot for a birdie. At the 622-yard, par-5 second, a 30-yard wedge somehow sailed into the hole, making him three under through two holes. The sixth is a bending, reachable par 5 of 479 yards guarded by a creek. He reached the green area in two, and chipped in from 25 yards downhill to plunge to eight under, where he stayed for the rest of the day.
"I don't think I chipped in three times all of last year," he said.
Burroughs, 27, is a former NCAA champion out of Ohio State who had not picked up a club in three weeks, at home in Ponte Vedra, Fla. attending to a newborn child. He came here not knowing what sort of play to expect from himself, and was vaguely surprised to be in this position. He is noted for his lightening fast swing, and a tie for second at last year's Canadian Open, his only other real flirtation with a victory.
"I'm exhausted," he said. "I've been changing diapers and washing baby bottles. I haven't even walked, except with a stroller."
Edwards, 28, is another youngish player seeking his first PGA Tour win, a veteran of qualifying schools whose career earnings amount to barely $100,000 since turning pro in 1987. His 64 was the lowest round he has shot on tour.
He was the seventh player to equal the course record. His round came with eight birdies to one bogey, by virtue of unerring irons into the greens. He never had a putt longer than 20 feet.
"I hit everything right at the hole," he said.
Edwards is without question the darkest horse among the leaders. The most notable thing he has won was the North Dakota Open. He has had one previous experience near the top, briefly a second-round leader in the Honda Classic earlier this season. He finished in a tie for 13th, wracked by nerves. Today will mark his first experience playing among the leaders in a final round.
Told that he was wanted for a TV interview, he said, "I just hope I won't stutter." He could not predict how he would bear up over the final 18 holes. "We're going to find out," he said. "I mean, it's the only way I'm going to learn."
Irwin's round, like Edwards's, included nothing singular, just a slow procession of seven birdies to only one bogey, birdies that resulted from piercing iron shots into the greens. He birdied four holes in a row from the third through the sixth. At the 415-yard, par-4 16th, he drained a 25-foot birdie putt, kicking the air and punching his fist.
Irwin is the most decorated player of all those in contention -- actually he is the only winner of a major championship among them, if an aging one. He has contended some this season, including a run at the Players Championship before finishing tied for fifth. Although he is less consistent now than he once was, he has the chief attribute required at Avenel: accuracy. He also might have luck on his side, as it is his birthday.
"I keep trying to forget it," he said. "I don't think the players would give me anything but grief about it. They certainly won't give me any strokes for it."