KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Sunday's KitchenAid Senior PGA forecast? Stormy, with a heavy chance of a breakthrough

May 25, 2024


Jeff Babineau

May 25, 2024

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – At the 84th KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, the storyline for Sunday is shaping up thusly: Somebody in this loaded field is headed for a big, big breakthrough.

After a breezy, action-packed Saturday, South Africa’s Ernie Els, seeking his first senior major, and Australia’s Greg Chalmers – seeking his first senior victory of any kind – head into the final round sharing the lead, each man getting to 10-under 203 after solid rounds on a challenging day.

There are lots of interesting names right on their tails: Chris DiMarco (71) and Richard Bland (74) lurk only a shot back, both chasing first victories as seniors. Eight others are within four shots of the leaders on a golf course where bogeys and doubles are easy to find.

The large pack of contenders who will attempt to beat the field – and incoming rain – on Sunday includes Australia’s Richard Green, who made a pair of eagles in the third round in a 70; Steve Stricker (71), the event’s defending champion and a three-time major winner in 2023; long-hitters Stewart Cink (71) and Scott Hend (70), each of whom are seeking a first victory on PGA Tour Champions; as well as PGA of America Golf Professional Jason Caron, a 51-year-old head professional from New York who enters Sunday on the heels of shooting 67, and filled with confidence.

The marquee name to watch, of course, will be Els, 54, who has more experience than most not only on competing on the globe’s biggest stages, but winning on them. He counts two U.S. Opens and two British Opens on a starry resume that put him into the World Golf Hall of Fame. But since turning 50, surprisingly, no majors have fallen his way.

He looks forward to the opportunity to change the narrative.

“I mean, these guys are good man,” Els said after a birdie at the last hole (8-iron, 7 feet) left him at 69 and pulled him into a tie with Chalmers. “I haven’t really fired on all my cylinders. I’ve been missing a couple ­– either the driving or putting or something, you know?

“I’m trying to put all the pieces together.”

Chalmers turned 50 in October, and has been getting into tournaments via Monday qualifiers and top-10 finishes that twice have earned starts in the weeks that follow them. A victory would set him up on PGA Tour Champions through the end of 2025, and get him into the majors and all those other events he longs to play. His game was solid Saturday in a third-round, 5-under 66.

Chalmers may not yet have full status, but showed what he can do on Saturday at Harbor Shores. After a somewhat tentative start, he rolled in a tricky downhill birdie putt on the difficult par-3 fourth, then found his stride. Beginning with the sixth, he reeled off five consecutive birdies to make a huge move.

He said the biggest key to his day were birdies he made at Nos. 6 and 7, two very good par 4s. At the sixth, Chalmers hit a 7-iron that settled 10 feet behind the hole, then converted the putt. At the 422-yard sixth, which asks for a blind approach up the hill toward Lake Michigan, he ripped a 5-iron into the wind from 180 yards that finished 4 feet from the hole to spark his birdie run.

“That stretch, 6 and 7, if I go par-par there, (it) might be a different sort of day,” Chalmers said.

At times, with northwest winds gusting past 15 mph, those near the top struggled to get anything positive going. Count Bland among those who struggled in the conditions. He started the day in the lead at 12 under despite not doing a whole lot with the putter on Friday. Saturday he did not have his best stuff, and lost three shots to par.

The good news? The Englishman who plays on the LIV Golf circuit weathered the storm as best he could, and ended his day only a shot from the lead. Not bad, all things considered. He’ll wake up on Sunday and have as good a shot as anyone.

“Been around enough to know that you’re going to have poor days,” Bland said as he hit the practice tee to work out some problems in his swing. “But do a little bit of work now and just try and get a little bit of a better feel for the golf swing and do a little bit of putting.

“Yeah, hopefully come out strong tomorrow.”

There were 41 PGA of America Golf Professionals competing this week under the umbrella of the Corebridge Financial Team, and Saturday it was Jason Caron who stepped up and set the pace. He and his wife, Liz, a fellow PGA Professional, run the show at Mill River Club in Oyster Bay, N.Y.

Caron was setting the pace for everyone early in the third round. He got off to a great start, with birdies on two of his first three holes, and at the seventh – a hole he had doubled the previous day – he delivered a thunderclap.

He and his younger brother Nate, on his bag this week in Michigan, talked over what shot they wanted to hit from 173 yards. The wind was strong, and right into them, and likely would be even stronger once the ball got above the dunes on the uphill shot. Since he took 5-iron out of his bag, they settled on Jason hitting his 5-hybrid.

The shot came off nicely, and was headed just a tad left of its target. For Jason and Nate, the shot's fate once the ball vanished over the hill was the great unknown. They weren't able to see it. The ball pitched in rough, trickled toward the green, and began to track toward the hole. Both Carons were surprised to see their family and friends up ahead suddenly rooting and hollering for the ball “to Go! Go! Go!” Near the hole's edge came one last turn, and the ball vanished for an eagle-2.

Three shots back, one round to go, will Caron allow himself to think about winning, something last done in this event by a PGA Professional some 31 years earlier, when Tom Wargo did it? Iowa PGA Professional Jeff Schmid is right there, too, hanging inside the top 10 after shooting 70 on Saturday. He has performed well all week, starting with an opening 66. His round on Saturday included an eagle-2 on a par 4 (the 14th), too. Special stuff.

Caron, who spent time on the PGA Tour when he was younger, smiled, but wasn’t going there. He sees his experience as one to enjoy with his family around him, a terrific week to make memories. But winning? Can he even allow himself that dream?

“Listen, this stuff could happen,” he said. Caron, a father of two young girls, 11 and 7, then smiled. He loves exactly where he is in his life.

“Even if I won, I don’t know if I would play that much, to be honest," he said. "I want to see my kids grow up. This is just a nice bonus.”

With poor afternoon weather expected Sunday, final-round tee times have been moved up, with leaders teeing off shortly before 10 a.m.. Which only means this: in all probability, somebody is going to land his breakthrough moment a few hours earlier than scheduled.