BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Peter Senior finds himself in an all-too-familiar position. Sitting in second place in a Champions Tour event.
Senior is tied with Jeff Sluman for second, two shots behind leader Tom Lehman, entering the final round of the Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek. Senior began Saturday's third round in 16th place, but then stormed up the leaderboard by shooting a 30 on the front nine on the way to a 6-under 66, the best score of the day.
Senior has become somewhat accustomed to the runner-up role. He has five second-place finishes in less than three years on the Champions Tour, including two in the city of Birmingham. Senior lost to Lehman in a playoff in last year's Regions Tradition and finished second in 2010 at the old Regions Charity Classic, which was played at nearby Ross Bridge.
There certainly is nothing wrong with finishing second in a field of nearly 80 players. The problem for Senior is that he has yet to make that final move up one spot into first place. After 56 starts on the Champions Tour, Senior remains stuck in no-cigar territory.
Senior nearly won this event last year. He had a 35-foot birdie putt on the final hole that would have given him the victory, but the ball barely slid by on the left side of the cup. Senior then lost the tournament when he missed a 5-foot putt for par on the second playoff hole.
That was one of three second-place finishes Senior endured last season. It happened again earlier this year at the Allianz Championship when he made a birdie on the final hole of regulation to tie Corey Pavin, but then had a 14-foot putt to extend the playoff stop inches short of the cup.
"I'd dearly love to win," Senior said late Saturday afternoon with an almost wistful look on his face. "I've had plenty of opportunities. That's the only thing I'm looking forward to now is winning an event."
Winning the Regions Tradition seemed like a bit of a long shot for Senior midway through the tournament. He began with consecutive rounds of 1-under 71 and was seven strokes off the pace. He closed out the second round with two bogeys and no birdies over the final 14 holes.
But things got better in a hurry for Senior on Saturday. He birdied holes No. 2 and 3, and then went birdie-eagle-birdie on No. 6 through 8, placing him at 6-under before even making the turn. The big shot came on No. 7, where Senior used a 5-iron to hole in from 185 yards out.
"That was a highlight," he said. "That really kicked me into gear."
Senior said that after he made another birdie at No. 11 to go to 7-under on the day, "I thought I could shoot something pretty low. I sort of looked to get a little bit greedy. A couple more (birdies) would have been really nice."
Instead, Senior made one of his few mistakes of the day, hitting a poor tee shot on the par-4 12th hole. The ball hit the top of a fairway bunker and came down against the bank, leaving Senior with no option other than to chip out. From there he scrambled just to salvage a bogey. After that the magic was gone, and Senior settled for pars the rest of the way.
"You just feel that it breaks the momentum," Senior said of the bogey. "After that I didn't hit it close enough coming in to make a birdie. I was 20 feet away nearly every hole."
Still, Senior's strong showing on the front nine was enough to propel him back into the thick of contention. It was the third consecutive tournament in which he has posted a particularly low 9-hole total. He shot a 28 on the back nine during the final round of the Senior PGA Championship two weeks ago, and then last week he began the Principal Charity Classic with a 31 on the front nine.
"My golf's been hot and cold," Senior said. "I'll play pretty ordinary, certainly not playing my best but sort of hanging around. Then all of a sudden I'll play nine holes really well. It's there, but I can't bring it out for the full day."
If Senior is able to put together a solid round on Sunday for a full 18 holes, then he should have a chance to finally break his Champions Tour winless streak. But he knows it won't be easy.
"Even when it's going well," Senior said, "it can turn around and bite you just as quick as it can help you."
Spoken like a man who has the frustrating experience of several second-place finishes without a victory.