LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Sonny Skinner's alarm went off at 5 a.m. Saturday, awakening him to the realization that he was five holes away from making his first cut in a major championship.
"I was nervous becuase I hadn't been playing all that good," said Skinner, a teaching pro at River Pointe Golf Club in Albany, who woke up Saturday morning needing to avoid a meltdown in his final five holes of his second round of the Senior PGA Championship.
"And I had to play two very difficult holes right at the get-go."
Skinner finished his second round, which was suspended Friday due to darkness, with a cumulative, two-day score of 1-over, qualifying him for the final two rounds of the tournament.
Skinner then headed back on the course for his third round, where he shot a 4-over 76, leaving him 14 shots back of leaders Hale Irwin and Kiyoshi Murota heading into today's final round.
"I actually started to hit the ball more solid today in the third round," Skinner said by phone Saturday night. "And I actually started getting a good feel with my putter. Even though my score didn't show it, I was feeling like I was playing better."
Skinner, who at one time early Thursday sat tied for second overall at 4-under, recorded a pair of pars to start Round 3 before bogeying No. 3 and 4.
The front nine continued to frustrate him as he double-bogeyed No. 8 and bogeyed No. 9 to make the turn at 4-over for the day and 5-over for the tournament.
His tee shot on the par three No. 8 landed within a yard where he wanted but hit a ridge and rolled 20 yards off the green, leaving him no angle for his next shot, which also rolled back off the green.
"Playing in a major like this isn't like playing in the back yard with the boys," Skinner said. "If you don't hit your target, you have some very difficult up-and-downs."
Skinner shot even-par on the back nine with two birdies and two bogeys, leaving him tied for 52nd place.
He tees off in the final round at 9:41 a.m. today with Willie Wood.
Skinner said he would love to finish the tournament with a round in the 60s.
"My goal is to play well enough to be the low club professional in the field," he said.
Heading into the final round, two club pros sit ahead of Skinner -- Jim Woodward at 1-over and Stu Ingraham at 4-over.
Irwin overcame a four-shot deficit to grab the lead, then frittered it away with a double bogey on the last hole to drop into a tie with Japan's Murota.
Seeking a victory that would make him the oldest winner of a senior major, Irwin -- who will be 66 next week -- shot a 2-under 70 that could have been better if not for the finish.
Irwin and Murota, who battled back pain to shoot a 74, were at 9-under 207.
Hall of Famer Tom Watson, the 2007 Senior PGA champion, shot a 68 and was just one shot back, with Trevor Dodds (67) at 7 under and Nick Price (73) at 6 under.
Irwin and Murota slugged it out on the back nine head-to-head in the same group.
Murota, a 55-year-old Japanese touring pro and golf teacher who has seldom played in the United States, grabbed his back after hitting his tee shot on the 15th hole.
But he was able to par in the rest of the way while wincing during shots and stretching in between them.
Irwin, who grabbed a two-stroke lead when Murota double-bogeyed the 12th hole, had a seemingly comfortable two-stroke lead in hand on the last hole.
But from the middle of the fairway he spun his approach shot on the par-5 hole back into the gaping bunker in front. From there he blasted out to 15 feet and rolled his par putt 3 feet past. Then he missed the bogey putt to give away the lead.