Seniors’ golf: Fred Couples turns back the clock
LAID-BACK people don’t feel pain. It’s why Fred Couples underplayed the word “hurt” when he recalled a string of near-misses over the years in the Open Championship.
Fourth on his debut in 1984, the American recorded eight more top-10s in golf’s oldest major, including third behind Tiger Woods and Colin Montgomerie at St Andrews in 2005.
There’s no doubt, though, that Couples, the 1992 Masters champion and so laid-back he’s almost horizontal, is a man on a mission heading into today’s final round of the Senior Open Championship. A third-round 64, six-under-par and the day’s best on the Ayrshire coast, lifted the 52-year-old into second spot, one behind Bernhard Langer, setting up a mouth-watering head-to-head between the pair in the battle for a £199,000 first prize.
“It has always been a goal of mine to win over here,” confessed debutant Couples after making his move by racing to the turn in 30, five-under, before bouncing back from a solitary bogey – he had to splash out sideways after finding himself up against the face of a fairway bunker at the 14th – with back-to-back birdies at the 16th and 17th.
“I had a few good chances in the Open Championship, playing with some guys who went on to win it. Greg Norman [at Royal St George’s in 1993] and Ian Baker-Finch [at Royal Birkdale in 1991], for instance. I also played with Justin Leonard [when he won at Royal Troon in 1997] and watched him roll in seven 30-foot putts.
“Those experiences didn’t hurt me as the guys played well – unbelievable in Justin’s case – to beat me, but it would be nice for me to feel the achievement of winning a British Open, albeit a senior one, especially here at Turnberry, where I remember the Duel in the Sun in 1977 and Nick Price beating Jesper Parnevik to win in 1994.”
Langer, who set the pace after an opening 64 before slipping to a 73 on Friday, is back in pole position following a 66 that included an eagle-3 at the seventh. Helped by that, the 54-year-old was three clear with five holes to play before Couples made his late thrust, but Langer is still feeling confident. “It was a really good round,” he reported of his effort.
Having let a four-shot lead slip in the final round of the US Senior Open a fortnight ago to lose out to Roger Chapman – one of four second-place finishes this season – the master of efficiency is determined to get the job done this time and regain a title he won for the first time at Carnoustie two years ago. “I don’t need any extra motivation,” he insisted.
Breathing down the necks of the top two is Australian Peter Fowler, winner of the European Senior Tour money-list last season. He jumped into contention after a flawless 65 to sit on five-under, two ahead of American duo John Cook (66) and Gary Hallberg (73) and Englishman Barry Lane (66). Hallberg, the halfway leader, dropped three shots in the first four holes before recovering with two late birdies.
Lane, who has Mark Crane, Richie Ramsay’s regular caddie, on his bag, is praying for tough-last day conditions as he bids for a third over-50s success in the home of golf after back-to-back wins in the Scottish Senior Open. “I like it windy,” said the Englishman, who also won the Scottish Open on the main Tour in 1988. “I’ve got a pretty good imagination for the shots you need to play in these conditions.”
Cook, who illuminated his round with an eagle-3 at the 17th, where he rolled in a 15-footer, has finished runner-up in four different senior majors, having also been the bridesmaid to Nick Faldo in the 1992 Open Championship at Muirfield. “I wish I could have played more Open Championships but the ones I did I always played well,” said the 54-year-old.
At level-par, Tom Watson probably has too much ground to make up on the leader, but the five-time Open champion is certainly not discounting his chances of landing this title for a fourth time after making a significant leap up the leaderboard on the back of a four-under-par 66.
Ten off the pace and tied for 32nd at the start of play, Watson lost further ground after opening with a double-bogey 6 but bounced back from that setback to cover the next 17 holes in six-under, coming home in 31 to catapult himself into joint-11th.
It was an effort that pleased the winner here in 2003. “That 75 yesterday probably put me a little far out, but I may have an outside chance if I play a great round,” he said. Dinner last night, he insisted, would certainly be enjoyable. “That sticky toffee pudding is going to taste awfully good,” he added with a smile.
After Friday’s testing conditions, which saw only two players break 70, the Scottish contingent was reduced to just two for the final 36 holes. Ross Drummond shot a level-par 70 to stay on four-over, five ahead of Bill Longmuir after his 71. Both need stirring last-day performances to earn decent cheques tonight.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east