SAMMAMISH, Wash. - With one round to go in the U.S. Senior Open, it's hard to think of a better plot than the one that has emerged at Sahalee CC.
Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer have been the class of the Champions Tour in 2010, each with three victories and ranked first and second on the money list. After sterling play on a difficult course through 54 holes this week, the duo is tied for the lead at five-under 205, five strokes clear of their closest pursuers, Tom Kite and Chen Soon Lu, with four others six back.
While stranger things have happened, it looks like the outcome will come out of Sunday's final pairing at Sahalee, where Saturday Couples shot the week's low round, 65, and Langer made a birdie at the 18th hole to post a 68. All of it happened in front of a gallery of nearly 30,000 people - most of them there in vocal support of Seattle native Couples, for whom they no doubt will turn out in droves again Sunday.
For being contemporaries, Couples, 50, and Langer, 52, don't have much history of down-the-stretch duels - having never battled one another on the PGA Tour. The two were on opposing sides in the Ryder Cup five times (1989, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1997) but were involved in only one match when Couples teamed with Raymond Floyd at Kiawah Island in 1991 for a 2-and-1 four-ball victory over Langer and Mark James. And, of course, as defending Masters champion, Couples helped Langer into his second green jacket at Augusta National in 1993.
On the surface there aren't a lot of similarities between the casual, long-hitting Couples and the meticulous, grind-out-a-score Langer, and Sunday's showdown indeed will be a study in contrasts - two winners who go about their work differently. Truth be told, Couples is a more intense competitor than some realize, while Langer is a friendly gentleman, quick with a smile.
Langer knows the vast majority of the gallery will be in Couples' corner Sunday, but he has been the underdog before. "He's a local boy and he has a lot of following no matter where we play in America," Langer said. "I'm sure there are many, many people rooting for him, but I've heard a few Germans out there, and I might have my own 12 people cheering for me."
The stage is set for a dramatic Sunday, regardless of one's rooting interest, because the large galleries have energized all the golfers, not only the hometown hero.
-- Bill Fields