HARRISON, N.Y. (AP) — Fred Couples shot a 3-under 68 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead after the third round of the Senior Players Championship, the Champions Tour’s final major of the season.
Couples is at 11-under 202 for the tournament and is trying for his first Champions Tour title since a seven-stroke victory last October at the Adminstaff Small Business Classic in Texas. Since his fourth victory on the senior tour, Couples has struggled with his back, but the injury has healed following a non-traditional procedure in Germany six weeks ago.
“It was a good day,” Couples said. “I drove the ball well. The best thing I did is I felt I hit the ball solid. It was a good round, not great, but I’m still in the lead and I’ll have to have a better round tomorrow.”
Peter Senior remained in second at 10 under after a third-round 68 and was tied with John Cook, who moved up from fourth with a 66. Corey Pavin was fourth at 8 under after shooting a 69.
Tom Lehman shot a 67, finishing in a four-way tie for fifth at 207 with Tommy Armour III (67), Mark Calcavecchia (67), defending champion Mark O’Meara (69) and Jeff Sluman (69).
Couples, Senior and Pavin were the last trio teeing off at the Westchester Country Club’s tree-lined West Course, and the 51-year-old Couples’ booming drives drew some of the loudest cheers from fans following him on each hole. Couples began with pars on the first four holes, then took the lead with a birdie on No. 5 and followed that up with a long birdie on the seventh hole.
Those were two of Couples’ three birdies, though none were in the back nine. Couples maintained his two-stroke lead with pars on the final nine holes as his nearest competition failed to gain ground.
Couples’ steady and consistent round has put him on the verge of winning his second major and first since winning the 1992 Masters by two strokes over Raymond Floyd.
“Winning is winning,” Couples said. “It’s hard to win Augusta, hard to win U.S. Open, hard to win the British Open, so any golf tournament is hard to win. For me tomorrow is a big day to see if I can win a tournament.”
Cook had the best opportunity when Couples failed to reach the fairway for the first time on No. 15 and missed a birdie putt. Cook’s birdie putt on No. 16 nearly went in, but grazed the top of the hole before rolling out and he finished with par on the final two holes.
Cook moved up with five birdies during a bogey-free round, while Senior remained steady with four birdies, including two on the final two holes.
Cook is in good position for his fourth Champions Tour victory of the year and ninth overall, while Senior has an opportunity to be the first Australian to win a major on the Champions Tour since Stewart Ginn in 2002.
“Any win is special,” Cook said. “A major win is at that next level and when you win events at places that you’ve had great history at, it is special no doubt,”.
Pavin turned in his 13th straight round under par after bogeying three times on the front nine. He came on strong with four birdies and was three strokes back with a birdie on No. 16 but could not get any closer.