By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
PITTSBURGH – Between them, Fred Couples and Kenny Perry have five runner-up finishes this year on the Champions Tour. Together, they have accounted for nine top-5 finishes, with Couples producing five top 4s.
All that’s missing for both is a victory and they will try to remedy that situation Sunday in the final round of the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship.
But Duffy Waldorf, John Huston, Mike Goodes and a few others might have something to say about that.
“There are maybe six or seven guys who have a chance,” Couples said Saturday after he reclaimed the lead with a torrid finish. “If I go out and play well, I have a great chance of winning and I’m not going to be thinking about second place. I’m well past that.”
Couples is at 15-under 195 after completing the rain-delayed second round with a record 62 and adding a third-round 67.
Perry is at 13-under 197 after rounds of 63-63. The 126 total for consecutive rounds is the SENIOR PLAYERS Championship record by 2 shots. Jack Nicklaus shot 64-64 at Dearborn (Mich.) Country Club in the third and fourth rounds of the 1990 SENIOR PLAYERS.
“Somebody’s going to shoot low,” said Perry, who is looking for his third Champions Tour victory and first senior major title. “It’ll be guns ablaze … you got to make birdies. Freddie is going to shoot a good round. If he shoots a crazy round of golf, the ball is in his court.”
With Fox Chapel Golf Club, a glorious Seth Reynor design, softened by one downpour after another over the past week, it was largely defenseless Saturday against premium golf.
And since there’s a likelihood of even more rain before the beginning of Sunday’s final round, it will continue to be spongy and that means it will continue to be a shooting gallery. The start times for Sunday’s final round have been moved up. The golfers will go off the first and 10th tees between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. to guard against further delays.
Waldorf shot 66 and is at 11-under 199. He will play in the final group with Couples and Perry. Goodes (65) and Huston (68) are at 10-under. Goodes started with five straight birdies in the third round to thrust himself into contention and demonstrated, as have Couples and Perry over the past couple of days, that there is another very low number lurking at Fox Chapel.
When Perry won the 2012 ACE Group Classic, he also had back-to-back rounds that totaled 126 – 64-62. At Fox Chapel, he adjusted his putting, choosing a putter from his three-putter rotation with more loft to combat the footsteps and other depressions resulting from the soft conditions.
At the re-start of the suspended second round, Perry went birdie-birdie-eagle to establish the trend.
“I just continued with the roll,” said Perry, who tied for second at the Senior PGA Championship and third last week at the Encompass Championship. “Plodded my way around the golf course and rolled in some nice putts, great putts, long putts.
“It’s amazing we’ve got three rounds in at this point. With all the rain, it’s just amazing we’ve gotten this far.”
The low scores didn’t surprise Perry, not with ball-in-hand (three days of lift, clean and place) and receptive greens.
“It’s like throwing darts,” he said.
Couples, the 2011 winner of the SENIOR PLAYERS in a playoff against John Cook at Westchester Country Club, closed out the lowest score ever in a senior major – 62 – when he got back onto the course Saturday morning. He faced a tricky 60-foot putt for his first shot of the day at 8 a.m. and safely two-putted for par. Then he made five pars before a closing birdie for the 8-under round which equaled the score posted by Olin Browne last year in the second round of the SENIOR PLAYERS.
Couples began the third round at 12-under and with a four-shot lead over Huston, six better than Perry. But even with all the red numbers going up, he was only even par through 13 holes. His game was indifferent and his putting was nondescript. Then, he answered Perry’s birdie at the 14th hole with a 25-foot birdie putt of his own, added another at the 15th from 20 feet and a final birdie with an up-and-down at the par 5 18th.
“I did it the last five holes to push ahead again,” said Couples, who has back-to-back runner-up finishes in his last two starts. “It’s truly fun to play with Kenny. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Going low always is.