Jimenez overcomes errant drives, up 2 in Tucson

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Miguel Angel Jimenez pulled his penultimate drive of the day into the water and still saved par. The next drive stopped so close to the water he couldn’t take a regular stance, leading to a bogey.

Jimenez’s driver might have let him down late, but his putter was working all day, putting the Spaniard in position to win for the second time in three PGA Tour Champions starts this season.

Jimenez, 58, overcame the errant drives on the final two holes to shoot a 5-under 67 on Saturday and take a 2-shot lead into the final round of the Cologuard Classic.

“Putter feels good today, much better than yesterday,” Jimenez said. “The game is very solid, but the putting today … I holed a couple of putts.”

Jimenez shared the first-round lead with Jeff Sluman after a 66 and had a 3-shot edge as he headed to the 17th tee. Jimenez managed to save par after hitting into the water on the par-5 hole, but closed with the bogey on the par-4 18th. He was 11 under.

Sluman shot 69 to reach 9 under in his bid to win on the senior circuit for the first time since 2014. Jerry Kelly also was 2 shots back after a 67, with Gene Sauers (68) and Woody Austin (69) at 8 under.

Reigning Charles Schwab Cup champion Bernhard Langer was 4 shots back after a 67. The 64-year-old broke his own record as the oldest winner in PGA Tour Champions history last week at the Chubb Classic with his 43rd career win, two behind Hale Irwin‘s record.

Jimenez opened the season with his 11th PGA Tour Champions win at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii and was fifth last week in Florida. He had a hole-in-one on the par-3 seventh during his opening round at Tucson National and poured in the second of three straight second-round birdies by making a 40-foot putt on the same hole.

Jimenez made a roughly 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 15th and just missed another on the par-3 16th before running into trouble.

His lead at 3, Jimenez pulled his tee shot into the water left of the 17th fairway and had to take a drop from roughly 300 yards away. He carved a fairway wood over a strand of trees into a greenside bunker and got up and down for par.

Jimenez pulled a second straight tee shot on No. 18 and caught a break when a cable stopped his ball from rolling into the water. Unable to take a regular stance, he was forced to play out sideways and hit his third shot from 151 yards, two-putting from 40 feet.

“I tried to make a par, of course,” he said. “I hit a shot on the green and I hit a very good putt and it nearly went in. That’s the game.”

Sluman got off to a strong start with three birdies on his first three holes before a tee shot into the fairway bunker at the par-4 sixth led to a bogey. He had 10 straight pars before two-putting from the fringe on the par-5 17th and just missed a birdie putt on No. 18.

Sluman has had one top-10 finish in 55 starts the past three seasons, but has put himself in good position in the desert.

“I like my spot right now and we’ll go out and hopefully play as casual and as carefree as I can,” Sluman said.

Kelly scrambled through an opening-round 68, including a failed bid to save par from atop a grandstand. The eight-time PGA Tour Champions winner spent Friday afternoon working with coach Jim Schuman and worked with him again before his Saturday round.

Kelly had much better command of his swing in the second round, rolling in three birdies to turn the front nine in 2-under 34. He added another birdie on the par-5 12th and closed strong, with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 — the second after getting up and down from a greenside bunker on the par-5.

“I still had some loose shots in there a couple times, but overall it was much better than yesterday,” Kelly said. “Just need to keep making putts out here, giving yourself chances because you can have a lot of them.”

He’s going to need them Sunday the way Jimenez is rolling it.

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