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July 13, 2014

Sauers leads pack after long road back

EDMOND — Here’s the deal.

The biggest event of its kind in the world arrives in your backyard and you want so much for it to be unforgettable.

You want a big name, a local name or an absolutely out-of-nowhere name to come lay claim to it.

Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer and Vijay Singh qualify on the big meter. Bob Tway, Willie Wood and Scott Verplank qualify on hometowny familiarity. Scott Dunlap and Marco Dawson qualify on obscurity.

Gene Sauers qualifies on none of the above. 

Winning three times on the PGA Tour kills the obscurity angle. Those three wins, being what they are — Bank of Boston Classic, Hawaiian Open, Air Canada Championship — kill the big name angle. And the dude’s from Savannah, Ga., which is neither exotic, interesting nor cool to Sooner state golf fans.

That his three PGA tour victories spanned 14 years from first to last is pretty amazing, all things considered, but you’ve got to be really into golf to care. 

That he bears a striking resemblance to Gil Morgan, the so-dubbed “honorary Sooner” is interesting, yet meaningless.

On the face of it, there’s nothing particularly fantastic about Gene Sauers. Also, you’ve just got to root for the guy. Because there’s so much more to his story. And, even the parts of it that don’t include his giving up on the game and almost dying are pretty meaningful, too.

Beginning in 2005, he went seven years without touching a golf club. 

“I was playing bad, wasn’t having a good time, pulling my hair out,” he said after shooting a back-nine 33 to take a three stroke lead at the Senior U.S. Open at Oak Tree National.

Then he got sick.

What had been thought to be rheumatoid arthritis worsened considerably as his skin began burning from the inside out. It has been called Stevens-Johnson syndrome, but Saturday explaining it in the interview room, Sauers admitted, “I don’t think they were really sure. I think they just called it that.”

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