Michael Allen got out of the kitchen. Now we'll see if he can stand the heat.
We have a horse race. We have a golf tournament here at Omaha Country Club. This U.S. Senior Open is turning into everything we could have hoped. Big names. Big crowds. Jammed leader board. And slow-cooked prime rib.
The stage is set for Sunday drama before Sunday history, and for that we have Allen to thank. The San Francisco pro has been quite the host this week.
He provided Omaha fireworks on Friday, shooting a 63. Then he decided it wouldn't be fair to run away from the field. He shot a 2-over 72 in a Nebraska steam bath and wound up at 8 under, just two shots ahead of Kenny Perry and Fred Funk and only four shots ahead of the oncoming Corey Pavin.
Allen was doing a four-hour bake, and that was just Thursday night.
The pro had agreed to be part of an auction for juvenile diabetes in which he made dinner for four couples at the Omaha home of his hosts, Tom and Julie Taylor.
Allen spent $350 on groceries, Tom Taylor said. The dinner, for 20 guests, raised $1,900 for diabetes. Allen's daughter Michelle is diabetic.
He made an 18-pound prime rib, a dish with green beans, bacon and butter that was cooked on the grill and a dessert with whipped cream and berries.
“It was perfect,” Tom Taylor said.
Because Allen's wife and two daughters didn't arrive here until Thursday, the dinner was moved to Thursday night. Which made for an interesting first round for Allen.
“He put the prime rib on before he left for his morning round,” Tom said. “At about 12:20 (p.m.), he's on the 13th hole and he finds me in the gallery and calls me over. He says, 'Make sure somebody takes the prime rib out and puts it at room temperature.'”
I don't know who should be covering this tournament, the Golf Channel or the Food Network.
The day after serving dinner, Allen shot his 63, which prompted him to say late Saturday afternoon, “Maybe I should make dinner again tonight.”
Good news: The Taylors were having make-your-own pizza night on Saturday night.
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Bad news: The open-air oven at OCC will be on bake Sunday. The heat will be on, in more ways than one.
So who's going to win? What's it going to take? Here's a list of the contenders, which could go five deep and maybe more.
» Allen: He had a roller-coaster round, going 1 under, then 2 over, back to even and finally 2 over. It was this simple: Whenever Allen missed a fairway or green, he paid a price. That's what this golf course is about.
Some pros aren't too fond of the slopes on some of the fairways, which can feed a shot into the rough. That happened to Allen on his second shot from the rough on 18, which hit the fairway and found rough again.
He took his bogey there and went looking for shade. Every player was hot. Allen looked hot. His clothes were sweat-stained. At one point, you could see him tinkering with his neck, which has bothered him since last fall and has flared up this week.
But just because Allen stumbled in, with a neck that needs treatment, doesn't mean he's wobbly. He's won a senior major, the 2009 Senior PGA, and he's shot 71-70-71 in three Senior Open final rounds.
» Perry: When handicapping a horse race, a man from Kentucky isn't a bad place to look. Especially this one.
The USGA watered the greens and several players took advantage, led by Perry and his 64. He's coming off a win in his last start, the Constellation Senior Players, a major. His presence on the leader board sent a buzz through the old course. It's a game-changer.
Like a racehorse, Perry is streaky. In the final three rounds of the Constellation, he went 63-63-64. Lots of people will have their money on the Kentuckian today.
» Funk: Crowd favorite. Former Senior Open winner (2009). Now, if he could only just skip the 10th hole.
The crotchety par-5-turned-4 is in Funk's head. He parred it on Thursday but has gone bogey and double bogey since. He doesn't know what to hit off the tee. He doesn't like the tee box. He complained openly to a USGA official after his Saturday double there.
If Funk pars that hole on Saturday, he's tied for the lead. He's playing well and he's got a hot putter. Somehow, Funk's destiny Sunday will be tied to how he handles his old nemesis.
» Pavin: The 1995 U.S. Open champ finished second in the Senior Open last year. He shot a 68 in the final round. In his three Senior Open final rounds, he's gone 68-69-68.
At four shots back, Pavin might have to shoot at least a 65. But he's certainly capable. If he gets off to a fast start, there might be some electric sparks flying around the last two groups of Pavin-Funk and Perry-Allen.
» Rocco Mediate: Rocco was only three shots back of Allen before he started missing fairways. He loves the U.S. Open and can make a run. But at five shots back, he may have to go 7 under today. He's going to need a lot of help to be in this thing.
There's a gang at 2 under that will need even more help, and that's a problem on the Champions Tour.
“Most of the guys have won a lot of tournaments,” Pavin said. “So you don't see a lot of backing up on Sunday. To win a tournament here, you have to go out and win the tournament.”
» Finally, the OCC course: It will be interesting to see how the USGA sets the Sunday stage. They're sensitive enough not to kill the greens that they have been putting water on them. But how soft do they want them Sunday?
Will it be attack mode for the players? Or defense mode?
And what about the pin placements?
Get ready for another four-hour bake, with all of the trimmings.