Mediate keeps Senior PGA lead — but Montgomerie is closing in

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Rocco Mediate may be one of the more colorful players in professional golf, but – until this week’s 77th Senior PGA Championship – he had gone eight years without contending for a major title.

Mediate, despite having a solid career, has never won one of golf’s big ones. In his last great chance Tiger Woods – playing on a broken leg – beat him in a memorable playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open.

“That was the whole ball of wax,’’ recalled Mediate, who referred to that experience this week as “insane fun.’’

Well, Mediate is finally back in contention again. He has led after each of the first three rounds at Harbor Shores and takes a two-stroke lead over Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie into Sunday’s final round on the Jack Nicklaus-designed course. If Mediate wins the title he’ll be the first wire-to-wire winner since Nicklaus in 1991 but holding off Montgomerie won’t be easy.

They’ll play together in the final 18 holes, and Montgomerie should feel much more comfortable in the pressure-packed situation. He’s going for the first three-peat in the Senior PGA since Hale Irwin dominated in 1996-98.

Irwin is one of only two players, in fact, to win the second of this year’s five majors on the Champions Tour three straight times. Eddie Williams, then playing out of Chicago’s Bryn Mawr Country Club, did it with wins in 1942, 1944 and 1945. The tourney wasn’t played during some of the World War II years.

This Senior PGA – the third played at Harbor Shores since 2012 with four more to come in 2018, 2020, 2022 and 2024 – is by far the closest of any of the pro tour majors played near Chicago this year but there isn’t much of a local connection. Locally-based Champions Tour members Jeff Sluman and Chip Beck didn’t survive the 36-hole cut.

That leaves club pro John DalCorobbo as the only Chicago connection left – and his is a faint one. DalCorobbo had once been an assistant pro at Edgewood Valley, in LaGrange, and his caddie this week is Brian Brodell, the teaching pro at Mistwood in Romeoville who was the Illinois PGA Player of the Year in 2015.

DalCorobbo’s an interesting story, though. He’s alone in third place going into the final round on a day when his home course is at the center of the sporting world. DalCorobbo works at Brickyard Crossing, which has three holes located inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – site of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

All those tidbits aside, this tournament is Mediate’s to lose and his wife Jessica reminded him of that after his 14-under-par 62-66 start here.

“My wife said, `you have to own this and picture yourself with the trophy,’ and she has a point,’’ said Mediate. “I want to try to keep going and see what I can do.’’

Mediate, 53, has six PGA Tour wins and two Champion Tour victories on his resume. He saw his four-shot lead at the start of the day cut in half on Saturday as he was only able to match par of 71 in a round hampered by blustery winds.

“I’m happy with the way I felt and ecstatic with the shots I hit in these wind conditions,’’ said Mediate. “I felt like I was 25, the way I was moving the golf club. I can’t wait for tomorrow. Colin and I are buddies, and I’ll have my hands full, but it’ll be fun.’’