Stadler, McCullough take share of lead at 11 under

DEARBORN, Mich. -- A day after a whipping, swirling wind sent scores soaring, Craig Stadler bit back in the Seniors Players Championship.

Stadler, a Champions Tour rookie, birdied three of the first four holes at a tamer TPC of Michigan on Saturday en route to 7-under 65, vaulting him into a tie for the lead with second-round leader Tom Watson and Mike McCullough.

"This golf course sets up pretty well for me," Stadler said. "I was able to keep the ball in play, and the few times I hit a poor shot, I was able to recover with a good shot."

Watson, coming off an 8-under 64 in Friday's blustery weather, made two birdies and scrambled for several pars Saturday before making his first bogey in 37 holes at No. 17. He finished with a 1-under 71.

McCullough, who has finished no worse than tied for sixth at this event in the past three years, had a bogey-free 68.

Stadler had the round of the day, thanks largely to his putter, which he used sparingly. He needed only 24 putts to get around the Jack Nicklaus-designed course, including a 13-footer to save par from a greenside bunker on the final hole.

"I putted consistently well today, and I hadn't done that in ages," Stadler said. "It's nice to get over a putt and feel like you've got more than a 1 percent chance of knocking it in."

Stadler birdied three of the first four holes and followed with another birdie at No. 8 to shoot an outward 32.

He said he looks forward to his Sunday pairing with longtime friend Watson, the gallery favorite this week because of caddie Bruce Edwards' struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

"Tom is a close friend, and Bruce is a wonderful friend," Stadler said. "That said, we're all going to go out there tomorrow and try to beat each other's brains out."

Five players, including first-round leader Gil Morgan and two-time champion Dave Stockton, are four shots back at 7 under.

Playing conditions Saturday -- sunny and breezy -- were vastly different from those Friday, when the temperature barely topped 70 and wind gusts exceeded 35 mph.

McCullough, who has a history of solid play in this event, also had a stellar save for par from the bunker at No. 18. He played his way into Sunday's final group despite hitting just 10 of 18 greens.

"I hit some terrible shots today, but I was able to save myself with some putts," said McCullough, who plays in sandals. "I've been lucky to miss in places where I can salvage something."

McCullough tied for second in last year's Senior Players Championship, tied for sixth in 2001 and tied for fourth in 2000.

Andy North, alone in second and two shots behind Watson after Friday, faded quickly in the third round with a 40 on the front. He finished with a 4-over 76 and stands at 4 under for the tournament, tied for 11th.

This is the 18th event on the 2003 Champions Tour. The first 16 were won by different players before Bruce Lietzke won for the second time two weeks ago at the U.S. Senior Open.

The Champions Tour corrected itself Saturday, saying that golfer and TV analyst Gary McCord's father was "very seriously ill." Earlier, the tour announced that McCord withdrew from the tournament because his father had died. McCord was with his father Saturday in California, the tour said. ... Defending champion Stewart Ginn shot a 73 and is even for the tournament. ... Nicklaus was 5 over after a 71.