Playing in the final group with crowd favorite Joey Sindelar on his home turf can be daunting, especially when he's playing well. Eduardo Romero never wilted.
Romero watched Sindelar hole an amazing eagle shot at the turn Saturday, then made four birdies on the back nine to finish his second straight 7-under 65 and take a one-shot lead over Sindelar (65) and Fulton Allem (65) into the final round of the Dick's Sporting Goods Open.
"It's difficult. It's a little pressure," Romero said after escaping with the lead.
Romero, who began the day two shots behind first-round leader Joe Ozaki, had 16 birdies and one double bogey over the first two rounds and was at 14-under 130.
"I think the key is the putter," said Romero, who switched to a long putter midway through the Senior PGA Championship at Oak Hill in May. "Putts from 10 to 15 feet, it (birdie) is always on my mind."
Romero needed 27 putts to complete the round and has hit 21 of 28 fairways and 29 of 36 greens in regulation over the narrow, tree-lined En-Joie Golf Club course. But with 11 players within five shots of the lead and the five right behind Romero seeking their first Champions Tour victory, the Argentine native knew the final round would be a real test.
"It's a good match tomorrow," Romero said. "Behind us are many good players. I have to make 65 again."
Ozaki (70) was alone in fourth at 11 under. Bruce Vaughan (67), the 2007 runner-up in the inaugural year of this Champions Tour event, was tied for fifth at 10-under 134 with Ronnie Black (68).
Sindelar is seeking his first victory since turning 50 and joining the tour in April, and playing the course where he won the B.C. Open in 1985 and 1987 when it was part of the PGA Tour continued to be comforting as a large gallery followed his every move.
After parring No. 7 and hitting his drive at the par-5 eighth hole, Sindelar accepted a Binghamton Mets hat and a big hug from a longtime pen pal, donned the cap for the hole, and soon tied for the lead.
"When she gave me that hat, I thought, 'This has to be good stuff,' " said Sindelar, who grew up and still lives in nearby Horseheads.
Sindelar used a 3-wood on his second shot and made the green to set up a two-putt birdie from 40 feet to reach 9 under.
Then came the shot of the day. Lying 130 yards from the pin at the par-4 ninth hole, Sindelar used pitching wedge to hit a soaring shot that headed straight for the flag.
"It felt very good to me," Sindelar said. "(Caddie) John (Buchna) goes, 'Did you get it?' And I said, 'Yeah, right on the money.' Then he goes, 'Then it ought to be good.' "
It was. The ball landed 5 feet past the flag and spun back into the cup, eliciting a huge ovation from the crowd. And when Ozaki's birdie try stopped an inch short and Romero mishit a 4-footer for birdie, Sindelar was tied for the lead.
Black, playing in only his second Champions Tour event, moved into contention with four birdies on the front side. He got to 11 under with a 24-foot birdie putt at the par-4 11th and gained a one-shot lead with another birdie at the par-5 12th hole, recovering nicely after plunking his second shot into a greenside bunker. Moments later, Romero birdied the hole to tie him.
With a massive water hazard lining the left side of the fairway all the way to the green, the 15th is usually the toughest hole on the course and is ranked the 12th most difficult on the Champions Tour. On this day, it was playing under par when the leaders came through, and they continued the trend.
Ozaki, who bogeyed No. 10, made it back to 11 under with a tap-in birdie. Sindelar then recovered from an errant tee shot that landed behind two oak trees along the right side, hitting his second shot through some branches to 12 feet. After Romero drained a curling 27-foot birdie putt to take sole possession of the lead at 13 under, Sindelar sank his putt to remain one back.
Romero birdied 16 and two-putted for par from 86 feet at the par-3 17th hole, but Sindelar continued to apply the pressure. He made a tap-in birdie at 17 after his tee shot stopped less than 2 inches from the hole.
Like Romero, Sindelar was wary when he pondered Sunday's final round.
"If the conditions are this good again _ we have no wind _ it's almost darts," Sindelar said. "Eduardo knows full well his job isn't over. He's just going to have to play ball, and so will the rest of us. We can't be caught looking at each other like it's our own little card game."
Divots:@ Andy Bean and Phil Blackmoor each eagled the par-5 fifth hole, the first two eagles of the tournament. ... Gary Koch (67), playing just his fifth tournament of the year because of broadcasting commitments to NBC, was at 9 under. Koch is vying for a spot in the Senior British Open in two weeks and needs a big payday here to qualify.