U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Nine Birdies Propel Langer to 54-Hole Lead July 13, 2012 | Lake Orion, Mich. By Stuart Hall

Through three rounds, Bernhard Langer has hit 50 of 54 greens in regulation. (John Mummert/USGA)

Bernhard Langer made peace with his putter.

After totaling 66 putts through two rounds of the 33rd U.S. Senior Open and decrying his long putter as being ice cold on Friday, Langer made nine birdies on Saturday to seize a four-stroke lead.

"It's hard to put in words," Langer said. "The only difference really was just I made some putts. I probably played worse than I played the first two days. I guess the course owed me some."

Langer shot a championship-low 6-under 64 to reach 10-under 200 at Indianwood Golf & Country Club. Tom Pernice Jr. (4-under 66), Corey Pavin (68), Roger Chapman (68), Tom Lehman (68) and John Huston (68) are tied for second at 6-under 204.

Within five strokes of Langer at 5-under 205 are Fred Couples (65), Fred Funk (67), Jay Haas (68) and Dick Mast (69). Second-round leader Lance Ten Broeck (72) is at 4-under 206, while first-round leader Tom Kite, who began Saturday in second place, ballooned to a 4-over 74 and is at 1-under 209.

Langer ranked 120th in putts through 36 holes – with 31 and 35, respectively – but totaled 28 on Saturday. The combined length of his nine birdie putts was 133 feet – or an average of 14½ feet.

"I was a little down with my confidence on my putting, especially yesterday," said Langer, who also has missed just four of 54 greens in regulation this week. "So I was very happy to see that ball go into the hole from all sorts of distances today. So I don't have to change putters. I just need to do what I'm doing."

Langer, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open winner, began the third round two strokes behind Ten Broeck. By the time Ten Broeck and Kite walked onto the first green, Langer had made his way atop the leaderboard with three straight birdies. Langer’s putts were from 20, 25 and 12 feet, respectively.

Ten Broeck, the unlikely second-round leader considering he caddies more on the PGA Tour for Tim Herron than he plays on the Champions Tour, was beset by what bit Langer the first two days – putting.

"Got off to a decent start, but then I three‑putted [the fifth hole], and things kind of unraveled," Ten Broeck said. "I played all right. Just it's hard to play well when you don't make any putts. Tom Kite will tell you the same thing. Neither one of us … we both putted horrible."

Langer shot a 5-under 30 on the outward nine, and birdied Nos. 10-12 to reach 12 under. He missed the green at the 204-yard, par-3 13th hole en route to a double bogey. A birdie at the 537-yard, par-5 15th was offset by a three-putt bogey on the 18th.

The two-time Masters champion is not overly comfortable with the four-stroke lead.

"That's not a huge lead," he said. "That can disappear in no time. So I'm going to have to get out there and shoot under par."

A number of players tried to keep pace with Langer on Saturday, but none could.

Fred Couples began the day at even par and posted an early 65, the second-best score of the third round.  

"I didn't do anything great, but I hit a lot of good irons," Couples said. "I had a couple three-putts, but I made a few putts too."

The worst of the three-putts came at the 537-yard, par-5 15th hole, where he made par. Couples’ second shot finished 20 feet above the hole and his eagle attempt rolled 10 feet by the hole.

"I hit the ball solid and got myself semi back into it," Couples said of his round. 

Pernice constructed a bogey-free round through 17 holes before three-putting the 18th green. He is not convinced the lost stroke will make that big of a difference.

Bernhard is a great player, and he's playing well, and you just would assume he's going to continue to play well, said Pernice, who has won once on the Champions Tour. It's a crazy game.

At the time Couples was addressing the media, Langer was 11 under en route to reaching 12. Asked what score would be needed to make Sunday compelling, Couples glanced at the leaderboard.

"He's going crazy," Couples said. "Sixty. How does that sound? Does that sound pretty good? Not really realistic.

"I can tell you this much. He's not going to come back tomorrow."

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites.