Fred Couples shot a 5-under 65 on Saturday for a share of the U.S. Senior Open lead, feeding off a raucous hometown crowd hoping the native son can win his first U.S. Golf Association championship.
Couples matched Bernhard Langer (68) at 5 under at tree-lined Sahalee Country Club, with Langer birdieing the final hole to pull even. They are the only players under par after three rounds.
Couples shot a 4-under 31 on the front nine Saturday, making birdies at Nos. 2, 5, 7 and 9 and holing a bunker shot on the sixth to save par. He added a birdie at the 16th to post the best round of the week.
Langer had a streak of 20 holes without a bogey snapped at the 12th, but rebounded with the birdie at No. 18.
And they might have the stage to themselves Sunday.
Couples and Langer were five shots clear of Chien Soon Lu (68) and Tom Kite (69). Peter Senior (68), Michael Allen (71), Tommy Armour III (72) and John Cook (72) were 1 over.
A charge from the back of the field seems unlikely, considering Couples' 65 is the lowest score of the week.
"If we shoot even par or 1 or 2 under, it's going to be very hard for anyone to get there," Langer said.
While Couples was making his charge and eliciting waves of cheers through the trees of Sahalee, plenty of other contenders stumbled.
Playing with Couples, Tom Watson was 10 shots worse, shooting a 75. J.R. Roth, in the final group with Langer, also shot 75. John Cook was 3 under for the tournament early in his round, then finished with a 2-over 72.
Couples' round was bogey-free and his best score since shooting a 63 in the first round of a Champions Tour event in late April.
Couples made birdies on the front nine at Nos. 2, 5, 7 and 9, nearly holing his second shot on the seventh, to which Watson questioned the gallery, "That's a gimmie, isn't it?"
But the most important hole was the sixth, where Couples appeared headed to at least a bogey, but made a spectacular par. His tee shot flared right and tucked near some overhanging tree limbs. His second caught one of the tree limbs, advancing only 70 yards, and his third was punched under another tree and into a bunker fronting the right side of the green.
Fortunate to have a little green to work with, Couples flopped the bunker shot and watched it roll in the cup for a par, sending a massive roar through the course. The 31 tied the lowest nine-hole score in the first three rounds, matched only by Lu's front nine Saturday.
Couples added par saves on the back at Nos. 15 and 18, sandwiched around an 8-foot downhill birdie putt at the 16th.
Langer kept his advantage for most of the round, moving to 5 under with a birdie at No. 11 after his eagle putt horseshoed around the cup. He gave back that shot a hole later when his second caught a tree limb and came up well short. It was his first bogey since the ninth hole Friday. On the 18th, Langer made a 20-foot putt to join Couples in the lead.