Germany’s Bernhard Langer will take a one shot lead into the final day at Turnberry as he attempts to win a second Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex in three years.
Langer, winner of the last Senior Open to be played on Scottish soil at Carnoustie in 2010, claimed a narrow 54 hole lead over American Fred Couples after battling more testing conditions on the renowned Ailsa Course to post a four under par 66 in Saturday’s third round, as overnight leader Gary Hallberg slipped back into a tie for fourth with 18 holes to play.
With winds gusting up to 30 miles per hour at times, scoring proved difficult for many of the 76 players that made the weekend in Ayrshire, as Langer capitalised to take control at the 26th Senior Open, the seventh to be played at the Ayrshire venue.
After starting in identical fashion to his third round with a birdie at the par four first, the 54 year old made further birdies on the short fourth before a stunning four hole run that saw the 42 time European Tour Champion turn in 30 blows.
Following his only bogey of the front nine at the par four fifth, Langer birdied the testing par three sixth, before holing a significant 12 foot eagle putt at the long seventh thanks to a pin-point three iron approach.
Another birdie was to come at the iconic ninth hole and despite a more up and down back nine that included two bogeys on short 11th and 15th holes, the two-time Masters Champion ensured a slim lead over Couples going into Sunday with a fifth birdie of the day at the par five 17th.
“I played a really good round of golf today with a couple of small putts missed,” said a satisfied Langer. “I drove the ball really well, putted well early, and then I missed a couple of short ones. One was a severe lip out and another one was a misread and a push.
“Then on 15 I hit a really good shot, as well, but just with the wrong club; went in the back bunker and made bogey. But you get that kind of stuff when you've got conditions like there were today.
“Overall the wind wasn't quite as strong as yesterday and we just had two rain showers, so it was a little bit better than the forecast had predicted.”
Langer, who held off a Corey Pavin charge to complete a wire-to-wire maiden Senior Major victory at the same event two years ago, reflected on what it would mean to capture a second Senior Open title come close of play on Sunday.
“It always means a lot to win Major Championships, win big tournaments, because you're winning against the best players on tough golf courses,” Langer continued. “This is a fantastic test of golf.
“There are a lot of guys still on the leaderboard with a chance, and I look forward to tomorrow, playing with Freddie. We played together in the Pro Am, and we've been paired together many other occasions so it should be a good day.”
Despite never having claimed an Open Championship crown over the course of a stellar career, Langer has a good record in the event and on links courses, having finished inside the top ten on eight occasions.
The 2004 Ryder Cup winning Captain finished second at The 1981 Open at Royal St George’s and The 1984 Open at St Andrews, but it is a tied third finish at Turnberry in 1986 that retains a special place in Langer’s heart, as the Anhausen native’s first daughter Jackie was born overnight with one round to play.
He remembered: “I got a phone call that said you're a dad, so obviously it was a thrill that everything went well. I was sad in a way that I missed the birth but made sure I was there for the next three.
“And then when I arrived Sunday morning, and it had on the leaderboard, ‘Congratulations, Bernhard, you're a dad,’ so that was pretty cool.”
Langer has looked in fine form so far this season, finishing in the top five in all three of his appearances on the European Senior Tour this season, and narrowly missed out on the US Senior Open two weeks ago when he surrendered a four shot 54 hole lead to eventual winner Roger Chapman so he will be doubly-determined to succeed in claiming the Senior version of the fabled Claret Jug on Sunday.
American Couples will take to the Ailsa Course alongside championship leader Langer at 15.00 on Sunday after posting a best-of-the-day 64 with a near-flawless Saturday that featured seven birdies, including a hat-trick to close the back nine, and just the one bogey at the tough par four 14th leaving the Senior Open debutant one shot back with 18 holes to play.
“It was a very, very good day,” said Couples, who shot an impressive two under par 68 in the worst of the conditions on Friday. “Yesterday I think gave me a little confidence, and then coming out and playing today, I certainly didn't think I would shoot 64, but once I got going, I didn't miss many shots; it was a great day, a lot of fun.”
Couples ranks The Open Championship as his second favourite tournament after the Masters Tournament, which he won in 1992, having finished in the top ten on nine occasions, and he admitted he would dearly love to add the Senior version of the title to his 54 professional wins.
“I've achieved a few things, but my goal way back when was to always win here,” he continued. “It's easily been my second favourite tournament, I just feel like The Open was always a treat to play, always very demanding and took a lot of thought to play the course.
“I just had a great round on what I consider to be one of the top courses in the world. So tomorrow someone is going to win, someone is going to win a Senior Open, and I would love to be able to beat this course for four days.”
Peter Fowler, John Jacobs Trophy winner in 2011, showed top form to sign for the only bogey-free round of the day, a five under par 65 leaving the Australian one shot back from Couples, while a three-way tie for fourth at three under par features England’s Barry Lane, America’s John Cook, and 36-hole leader Hallberg, who rallied bravely to salvage a three over par 73 with two birdies in the last four holes.