If Fred Couples is still atop the leaderboard at the end of play on Sunday, there will be a riot of 50,000 fans watching and the city of Seattle will declare a new holiday — Freddie Couples Day.
I’m slightly exaggerating. But it’s not far from the truth.
As Freddie’s downhill 20-footer for birdie disappeared into the ninth hole, a thunderous roar blared across Sahalee. He finished the front nine with a 31 and I felt like I was going to be trounced as the mob started to migrate from the ninth green to the tenth tee. It was impossible to navigate, but I was also consumed by the electrifying atmosphere flowing through every one of the 29,000+ fans in attendance for the third round of the US Senior Open.
When Freddie was five-under going into his last hole, Tom Kite was speaking to us next to the clubhouse behind the 18th green. “The golf course is just unbelievably difficult, it’s not giving up any good scores, I mean, 69 is about all you can hope for,” said Kite.
What about five-under? He fired back, “Who shot five-under? You’re dreaming.”
Minutes later, Freddie slid in a three-footer for par and the insane five-under 65 to take the outright lead momentarily. Bernhard Langer, who had dropped to four-under for the tournament after a bogey on 12, drained a clutch birdie putt on 18 to pull even with Freddie.
They are the only two players under par going into the final round. With a five-shot cushion separating them from the next-best competitor, this has the makings to be an epic duel.
“I’ve gotten away with some things and I’ve, believe it or not, putted pretty well,” Freddie said. “So I’m lookin’ to go out tomorrow and if it becomes a two‑horse race at the back nine it wouldn’t be surprising to see us maybe play better because it’s only he and I.”
While you would think the odds were in Freddie’s favor, Langer will be tough to beat. If it were anyone else in the field, I’d say they wouldn’t hold up mentally against the hometown crowds rooting so vigorously for Freddie. Anyone else would also be jetlagged, fatigued and exhausted coming off a major victory last week. Except Langer.
“I’ve had several times in my career when I won back‑to‑back, whether it was after my Masters in ’85, I won Hilton Head the next week,” Langer said confidently. “We won Ryder Cup in America and I flew back to Ireland and won the European Open the next week while everybody else was complaining they were tired and worn out.”
He continued with a coy smile, “[Freddie's] a local boy and he has a lot of following no matter where we play in America, but especially being from here, the background from here. 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 or whatever, who knows.”