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Fujita pads lead at U.S. Senior Open, but Stricker lurking from familiar second place

Hiroyuki Fujita Hiroyuki Fujita - Getty Images

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — The wind at Newport Country Club hasn’t been able to slow down Hiroyuki Fujita in the U.S. Senior Open.

Maybe the rain will stop him.

The Japanese Tour veteran shot a 3-under 67 on Saturday to improve to 14 under in pursuit of a wire-to-wire win and his first victory on American soil. He’ll have to withstand thunderstorms forecast for the final round as well as a charge from 2019 champion Steve Stricker, who made back-to-back birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 to shoot his third straight 66 and cut a four-stroke deficit in half.

“The conditions are supposed to be pretty bad, from what I hear, tomorrow,” Fujita said. “I don’t have a lot of distance on my club, so I’m definitely going to be in some tough spots. I’m just going to focus on the fact that I’m playing on the last day in the last group and focus on the fact that I’m lucky to be here.”

Richard Green shot 69 to sit at minus-11, with Richard Bland (69) at 9 under and Bob Estes (66) at 8 under.

Players teed off early and in threesomes from both nines on Saturday in an attempt to finish before the fog rolled in on the 7,024-yard, par-70 course on the mouth of Narragansett Bay. Tee times were moved up again for the final round on Sunday, when rain and lightning were forecast for the afternoon.

“This place is meant to be kind of firm and fast and kind of linksy in feel. If it stayed this way, a little breezy, and firmed up a little bit, it would be a really tough test tomorrow,” 2021 winner Jim Furyk said.

“If it rains quite a bit, I think you’ll see some guys who are able to score, where it’s easier to keep it on the fairway, easier to get the balls on the greens, and maybe a little less difficult,” he said. “If it’s wet, if it rains, someone will go out there and fire it.”

Fujita, who had never broken 70 on the 50-and-over tour, did it for the third day in a row while posting the only bogey-free round on Saturday. He has just one bogey in the first 54 holes and has missed just one fairway in the tournament.

“He didn’t really miss a shot all the way around. He’s very consistent,” said Stricker, who was the tournament’s runner-up in each of the last two years. “We’re going to have to go out and have a good round to try to catch him. It looks like he’s in control of what’s going on with his game and emotion.”

Fujita had three birdies on the front on Saturday to open a big lead at 14 under before making nine straight pars on the back nine.

“He just didn’t make any mistakes,” Green said. “If he plays like that tomorrow, it’s going to take a good round from the guys coming from behind to catch him. You never know in the pressure of a U.S. Open at the end of the week what might happen. But I’ll just play my game and see where it ends up.”

Stricker fell four strokes back with a bogey on the par-3 13th but then got the stroke back on No. 16. He drained a 40-foot putt on the 17th right before Fujita missed his birdie putt from about 12 feet.

Stricker, who was second by two strokes to Padraig Harrington in 2022 and one shot behind Bernhard Langer last year, has posted a 33 on all six nine-hole sides of the tournament.

“You’ve got Greenie, obviously, who’s playing great at the minute. Steve Stricker’s been there, done it," Bland said. "I don’t know too much about the guy that’s in front, but he’s pretty much had the lead all week.”


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