CARY — When his four-foot par putt fell into the cup on the 18th green Sunday afternoon at Prestonwood Country Club, Bobby Clampett gave himself a little fist pump.
The putt had allowed him to share fourth place in his hometown Champions Tour event, the SAS Championship, the best finish in his five-month-old senior career. His final-round 69 was one of only seven sub-70 rounds on a warm, gray day that otherwise belonged to Russ Cochran.
For Clampett, though, it was another step forward in his career renaissance. He's been away from competition for the better part of 15 years, playing a tournament here and there between television work and other endeavors.
When he made three straight birdies Sunday, starting at the third hole, Clampett felt a familiar buzz. He was too far behind Cochran to think seriously about winning but close enough to the front to know that every shot mattered.
"I could definitely feel it," Clampett said.
He didn't help himself by three-putting four times on Sunday, getting on the wrong side of the humps and contours that give Prestonwood much of its character. Clampett, however, chose to dwell on the positives - including a handful of putts from the 10- to 20-foot range that tumbled in - in assessing his three-day weekend.
Clampett said he's driving the ball better than ever, which means he's able to get himself more opportunities to be aggressive going into greens. Rather than play for par, Clampett can attack more often.
Still, Clampett is working himself back into tournament form, getting comfortable again in competition. It's the little things such as reading lies better and taking a little off shots that Clampett still needs to improve. He didn't expect it to happen instantly but he can see the edges in his game getting sharper.
"I'm getting closer all the time," Clampett said. "There are still a few tweaks I'm working on. I haven't put it all together."
Clampett had the lead entering the final round of his second Champions Tour event only to shoot 73 to finish tied for fifth in the Regions Charity Classic in Birmingham, Ala.
Three weeks ago at Pebble Beach, Clampett tied for eighth while giving himself a chance to win. Tack on the solid play at Prestonwood, and Clampett has reason to be excited.
"It's a long process, but it's getting there," he said.
Clampett will tee it up next weekend in the Ensure Classic at Rock Barn in Conover. He could make the drive west on I-40 but probably won't. He and his wife, Marianna, share a car.
A longtime pilot, Clampett plans to hop in his plane and make the short flight to the Hickory area.
Flying high again.