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KA’UPULEHI-KONA, Hawaii – Woody Austin scrambled for birdie on the par-4 18th Friday to take the lead into the final round of the PGA Tour Champions’ season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship, while Ernie Els had the best round of the day to get into contention in his senior debut.
After the wind carried Austin’s drive far right, he hit a low 4-iron out of the rough to 12 feet to set up the closing birdie at windy Hualalai. He had a 4-under 68 to get to 11-under 133, a stroke ahead of Bernhard Langer.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to have 4-iron in on the 18th hole, but I hit a beautiful little low little runner and gave myself a birdie putt that I made,” Austin said.
The 55-year-old Austin won the 2016 event for the second of his four senior titles. He also won four times on the PGA Tour.
“I’ve got to sharpen up the putter,” Austin said. “I three-putted three times in the two days, so I need to sharpen that up.”
Langer, tied for the first-round lead with Miguel Angel Jimenez, followed an opening 64 with a 70.
“It’s a much tougher wind for this course,” Langer said. “It was southwest, so it played almost the opposite. The par 5s are a lot harder today than yesterday. I reached all the par 5s yesterday. Today, I only reached one. Just a harder wind for some reason the way the holes lay out.”
The 62-year-old German star won the event in 2009, 2014 and 2017. He has 40 Champions victories.
Jimenez, the 2015 winner, had three front-nine bogeys in a 71 to fall into a tie for third with Fred Couples at 9 under. The 60-year-old Couples had a 68.
“If it’s this hard of a wind, someone could shoot 4 or 5 under and win,” Couples said. “If it’s calmer, it might take 6 or 7 under. It’s like that every year.”
Els followed a 72 with a 65 to get to 7 under. He birdied four of the first six holes and eagled the par-5 seventh. He bogeyed the par-4 ninth and added birdies on Nos. 12 and 13.
“I just felt a bit more comfortable,” said Els, the four-time major winner from South Africa who turned 50 in October. “Believe it or not, after all these years, I felt like a rookie yesterday and I felt a little out of place.”
He changed putters to try to get better roll.
“I left everything short and didn’t quite get it to the hole yesterday, so it was a little better,” Els said.
John Daly also was 7 under after a 68.
Davis Love III shot 66 after an opening 74 left him tied for last in the 38-player field.