A four-stroke lead through 54 holes of the U.S. Senior Open isn’t insurmountable. So says the man who holds it.
With the low round of the championship Saturday, a 6-under 64, Bernhard Langer has taken control of the 33rd U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood Golf and Country Club. When Sunday’s final round commences, his 200 total, 10 under par, will be four strokes better than his next nearest competitors.
It’s a big lead. But maybe not big enough.
"Well, I don't know if the lead is all that big," Langer countered after his performance Saturday that featured nine birdies. "It depends on the rest of the guys out there, but I don't imagine it's going to be huge. So if it's three or four shots, whatever it might be, that's not a huge lead. That can disappear in no time."
Just about everyone agrees that Langer can be caught. But just about everyone agrees that Langer isn’t going to help anyone catch him.
That means a low round is going to be necessary to prevent the steady and steely German from adding a second U.S. Senior Open to the title he claimed in 2010 at Sahalee Country Club near Seattle.
Against a guy like Bernhard, four shots is an awful lot, said Tom Lehman, one of five players tied for second place with a 204 total. He's such a precise player. When he's on his game, he doesn't give much back. He'll be very, very tough to catch. Somebody is going to have to shoot a very low score to catch him.
"It would take an awfully special round to catch him for sure," said Jay Haas, who trails by five shots. "He's not one to back up too much."
"Yeah, 60," Fred Couples, responded when asked about his target score for today. "How does that sound? Does that sound pretty good? Not really realistic. I could tell you this much – he's not going to come back tomorrow. So whoever it is, is going to have to play a remarkable round to win."
Along with Lehman, Corey Pavin, Tom Pernice and Roger Chapman trail Langer by four with 204 aggregate totals. Haas, Couples, Fred Funk and Dick Mast are next at 205. Second-round leader Lance Ten Broeck is six behind.
Those are the closest pursuers. Langer, 54, who will play in the final pairing with Pernice starting at 1:50 p.m. EDT, has clearly built up a handsome head start. His four-stroke advantage is the largest in the championship since Bruce Lietzke held a four-stroke lead over Tom Watson and Vicente Fernandez in the 2003 U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.Lietzke won by two strokes.
Here’s more bad news for the pursuers. In the last 24 Champions Tour events, the winner has come out of the final group 23 times, and in the U.S. Senior Open, the winner has come out of the final group five of the last six years.
"We've all played a long time. It's not the easiest place to be in the lead with a four‑ or five‑shot lead sometimes," Pernice said.
Another sunny and warm afternoon is in the forecast for today, and all it takes is for one player to hit fairways and greens and give himself opportunities to perhaps pick up the scent. They’ll have to perform with the same precision as Langer has so far. He’s missed only four greens through three rounds.
But the key today is more than simply making putts.
"There's definitely a low score out there if we have the same weather conditions," Huston said. "You just have to hit it in the fairway. If you hit it in the fairway, there's a lot of good chances to make birdie because a lot of the times, the ball will feed to the hole if you hit it in the right section of the green."
"The course will give you decent score if you really play well," Lehman said. "So somebody who is six under, five under, is going to have to go out and just play great, and Bernhard is going to have to give us some help. I'm not going to count on that."
"He's an exceptionally good player, very methodical," Pavin said. "And this type of a venue is a very good one for him."
Langer might be methodical and patient, but he also is a smart player. He won’t attack the golf course the way others must today, but he won’t try to sit on his lead either. No one wants to get caught running in place, and that could happen.
"I'm going to have to get out there and shoot under par. That's my goal, I think, to go under par," he said. "If I go two under or three under, it will be very difficult for anyone to catch me. And if they do, they deserve to win."
Indeed, they will have earned it.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.