BLAINE, Minn. (AP) — One good putt saved the day for Tom Pernice Jr.
Pernice moved into position Saturday for his second Champions Tour title, shooting a 7-under 65 to take a two-stroke lead over Tom Kite in the 3M Championship.
He had a 13-under 131 total at the TPC Twin Cities after opening with a 66. The two-time PGA Tour winner had four straight birdies on the front nine, and added two more on Nos. 10 and 12.
However, his approach shot on the par-4 14th buried in the bank of a hazard in front of the green. After a drop in the fairway, his next shot landed about 40 feet short of the hole. Likely facing a double bogey at best, Pernice instead curled in the long putt.
“You’re not really thinking about making it. I just hit a good putt and it rolled right in perfectly,” he said.
With the momentum, he then birdied Nos. 15 and 18.
Playing in the tournament for the first time, the 53-year-old Pernice will likely need to shoot a similar score Sunday to win his first tour event since the 2009 SAS Championship. He has been close this year, with two second-place finishes and three thirds in his 14 previous starts.
“I really feel like my ball striking has come around,” said Pernice, who worked on “a couple of things” with his instructor, E.J. Pfister, before last week’s Senior British Open.
“My putting’s been pretty good all year, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity I’ve got myself tomorrow. … It’s going to take another good score, that’s for sure.”
The 63-year-old Kite, trying to become the oldest winner in the history of the 50-and-over tour, also shot 65 — his lowest score at the course in five years. He birdied No. 2 and finished his front nine by going eagle-birdie-birdie to get to 9 under, and birdied Nos. 11 and 18, missing a 25-foot eagle putt on the finishing hole by less than a foot.
“I got off to a great start yesterday — I was 5-under par through seven and then I kind of sat on it the rest of the round and made a couple bogeys,” he said. “Today, was just the opposite of that. I got off to kind of a slow start. I birdied No. 2, but had birdie putts on Nos. 1 and 3 and 4 and 5 and 6. … They moved the tees up on No. 7 making that a drivable par 4. I hit driver to the front edge of the green and made about a 25-footer for eagle and that kind of jump-started my round today.”
Kite, who won the event in 2004, is winless on tour since the 2008 Boeing Classic — 114 starts ago.
“I’m looking forward to being nervous tomorrow,” he said. “I’m anxious for that. It means you’re doing something.”
Kite has battled swing issues all year, resulting in just four top-16 finishes in 15 events. However, he tied for 14th in the Senior British Open.
“I played terrific over there last week, but I did not putt particularly well,” he said. “Last week was very encouraging.”
Jay Don Blake, Rod Spittle and Corey Pavin were three strokes back at 10 under. Blake and Rod Spittle shot 66, and Pavin had a 69.
“The scoreboard is bleeding out there, you see a lot of red,” Kite said. Fifty-nine of the 81 players are under par.
First-round leader Mark Wiebe, the Senior British Open winner Monday in a playoff, followed his opening 64 with a 71 to fall into a tie for sixth at 9 under. Kirk Triplett, who shot the day’s low round of 64, also was 9 under along with John Riegger (69) and Bart Bryant (69).
Kenny Perry, coming off consecutive major victories in the Senior Players Championship and U.S. Senior Open, had a 71 to join Gene Sauers (66), Colin Montgomerie (69) and Jeff Brehaut (70) at 8 under.
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)