Sammamish, Wash. – As he left the scoring area behind the clubhouse at Sahalee Country Club late Saturday afternoon, Tom Kite, fresh off a second straight 1-under-par 69, was asked if a closing 68 might get his interest in the final round of the U.S. Senior Open.
Boy, that would be nice, Kite said.
But would it be enough?
Hometown favorite Fred Couples and steady Bernhard Langer seem to have cornered the market in this major championship, entering the final 18 holes Sunday as the only two players under par and five shots clear of the competition.
Couples, after a championship-low 65, caught the confident Langer at 5-under 205. Their nearest rivals are 1992 U.S. Open champion Kite and Chien Soon Lu of Chinese Taipei. Four others are six back.
It appears to be a two-man race, a match-play showdown of sorts with Langer hoping to be a buzzkill to the Seattle fans, and Couples attempting to slow down the workmanlike German who won last week’s Senior British Open. Though they hold the lead jointly, a five-shot gap is the largest 54-hole lead in this championship since Dave Stockton happily skipped ahead by seven strokes on his way to the 1996 title at Canterbury Golf Club near Cleveland, Ohio.
It’s a Rubik’s Cube for the remainder of the field in terms of the difficulty of the challenge, but some players believe they can still get the tiles to line up in the right order.
Couples, for one, who goes off in the final group with Langer at 11:55 a.m. PDT, wouldn’t disagree with them.
If I can shoot 65, any of these guys can shoot it, the Champions Tour rookie and 1992 Masters champion opined. If someone comes out and shoots three‑ or fourunder, that will put them at 1one or two under if they're over par. [But] I'm looking to go out tomorrow, and if it becomes a two‑horse race at the back nine it wouldn't be surprising to see us maybe play better because it's only he (Langer) and I.
Langer, on the other hand, sounded like a man not fixing to have a lot of company as he nears the finish line after three straight sub-par rounds, the only player in the field with that distinction.
A lot can happen on this golf course, but it's a tough course to go really deep, said the two-time Masters winner. I don't think there is a 60 out there or a 62. So we have to give back, I think so, for some of the guys that are further back to have a chance. If we go around par or just 1‑ or 2‑under it’s going to be hard for anyone to get there.
You know, so much of it depends on what Freddy and Bernhard do, Kite said. They're obviously playing really well. The golf course is just unbelievably difficult, it's not giving up any good scores. You don't have to miss it very badly at all and you can just get tattooed. If you're not concentrating you're going to make bogeys and doubles.
Three or four (over) is not much on this golf course. Honestly, you can play a very good round of golf and shoot 73 or 74 just in a heartbeat, I mean, it's nothing. And I'm not kidding.
Couples is not only a Seattle product, but he also has served as honorary chairman of the championship. He has attracted enormous galleries each of the first three rounds, and Sunday should be no exception.
He's a local boy, and he has a lot of following no matter where we play in America, but especially being from here, the background from here, said Langer. I’m sure there are many, many people newsContenting for him but I've heard a few Germans out there and I might have my own 12 people cheering for me or whatever, who knows.
It’s sure to be another charged atmosphere. John Cook, one of the four players at 1-over 211 and tied for fifth, hinted that there could be some advantage in so much focus on the final twosome.
It couldn’t happen to be a better scenario for the tournament and the area, said the 1979 U.S. Amateur champion, referring to Couples residing atop the leaderboard. That doesn’t mean you can’t go out and shoot 65 or 66 and steal one. They (Couples and Langer) might get wrapped up in that whole thing and you just never know. It’s happened before and it certainly can happen here.
In other words, it’s far from over, even if most of the contenders look like long shots.
Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.