(Reuters) - Diminutive Gene Sauers shrugged off a fever to outplay his better-known rivals and vault to a three-stroke lead after the third round at the U.S. Senior Open in steamy Edmond, Oklahoma on Saturday.
Three years after surviving a mysterious health scare that could have been fatal, Sauers is on the verge of arguably the biggest victory of his career after carding a three-under-par 68 in oppressive heat at Oak Tree National.
The American was at seven-under 206, while German Bernhard Langer missed several short putts down the stretch to card 71 and fall into a tie for second place with American Scott Dunlap (72) at four-under.
Halfway leader Colin Montgomerie could not sustain his hot start and struggled to a 74, falling four strokes off the pace.
Sauers, who won three times on the PGA Tour, has a new outlook on life after dealing with a very serious health issue.
He spent seven weeks in hospital in 2011 after what he says was a drug interaction that went wrong. The medication was meant to treat suspected arthritis.
“They (were) treating me with all these drugs, and the next thing you know after taking them for six or eight months, the drug interaction burned me from inside out, both my arms and legs,” he told reporters.
“I think they told me I had like a 25 per cent chance of surviving. After skin grafts and all that, I don't have any more arthritis, thank God. I'm living and playing golf with my friends again, which is awesome.
“I'm more relaxed out there ... I was pretty hard on myself when I was on the regular tour.”
Sauers, 51, struck precise approach shots at the 16th and 18th holes to pick up two late birdies, while Langer bogeyed the 17th after missing a short putt.
“I felt I played better golf today (than yesterday), hit more fairways, more greens, left myself more opportunities and just the putter got kind of cold on the back nine,” said the 1986 and 1993 Masters champion.
“I hit a bunch of decent putts but I think I had three, four lip-outs in a row and you can't get those back. Yesterday I putted good, today I played good, so tomorrow hopefully get both together.”
(Reporting By Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ian Ransom)