Browne still up by 2 at US Senior Open

RUSTY MILLER - AP Sports Writer
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Olin Browne hits out of the sand next to the eighth green during the third round of the U.S. Senior Open golf tournament at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, Saturday, July 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Unflappable Olin Browne fought off the heat to shoot a 65 and forge a two-shot lead over Mark O'Meara through Saturday's third round of the U.S. Senior Open.

Browne, never a winner in his three years of competition since turning 50, set the tournament record for lowest score through 54 holes. After a record-tying 64 followed by a 69, he's at 15-under 198.

"The truth is, I haven't been thinking about what I've been doing; I'm thinking about what I'm going to do," Browne said.

He didn't even want to contemplate what winning a major championship would mean to him, even though he knows what it's like to be on the outside looking in for much of his 27 years as a touring pro.

"I really don't have any idea," he said. "It would be great, obviously. Any time you can put that kind of a championship on your resume it's a tremendous accomplishment. I haven't gotten one. I would love to have one."

O'Meara, winner of the 1998 Masters and British Open, had a 66 in a head-to-head duel. Playing in the same pairing, he pulled even with Browne with a birdie at the ninth hole but Browne had five birdies on the difficult back nine.

"I've always been a player that respects my fellow players," said O'Meara, getting a second wind after playing in Pebble Beach three weeks ago, the past two weeks in England and then flying to his home in Houston before arriving in Toledo on Tuesday. "Olin's a friend. He's a very good player. He showed that out there today and I know he'll be tough tomorrow."

Heading into the final round, it's apparently a two-man race. Six shots off the pace at 9-under 204 are Jeff Sluman (65), Peter Senior (68), Joey Sindelar (69) and Mark Calcavecchia (69).

They're left with almost no margin for error.

"You've got to hope that at least you get it done early in the round," said Sluman, winner of the 1988 PGA Championship. "You've got to get this thing done quickly and make some birdies and get some momentum going right off the git-go."

Browne is trying to join Simon Hobday, who won at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1994, as the only wire-to-wire winners in the tournament's 32 years.

His 54-hole total was one better than Hobday's 199.

Browne began the day with a one-shot edge on O'Meara. They matched each other swing for swing, putt for putt, throughout a day of scorching heat and high humidity at Inverness Club.

Both birdied the fourth hole, with O'Meara falling two back with a bogey on the next hole. Birdies on holes 8 and 9 helped O'Meara catch Browne heading to the back nine at the old Donald Ross layout, which plays to a par of 37 on the front but doesn't have a par-5 hole and plays to a 34 on the last nine.

Browne hit a wedge to 18 inches for birdie on the 10th hole and took off. He built a three-stroke lead with two more birdies through 13.

O'Meara birdied the 17th and 18th to pull within a shot, but each time Browne — with three wins on his PGA Tour resume, the last the 2005 Deutsche Bank — dropped in a birdie putt immediately on top of O'Meara's.

Inverness again remained defenseless despite sun and high temperatures. The course was hit with almost 4 inches of rain in the last week, with a huge thunderstorm on Friday morning delaying play and forcing 21 players to return to the course on Saturday morning to complete the second round.

Barely staying in range of Browne and O'Meara are Hale Irwin, who shot his age (66), along with New Mexico club pro Jeff Roth (68) and Michael Allen (71), all at 7-under 206.

Tied for 10th and nine shots back came a who's who of senior golf, including defending champion Bernhard Langer (68), Hal Sutton (66), Nick Price (68), Jay Haas (68), Steve Jones (69) and Corey Pavin (70).