Fred Couples watched Kenny Perry relentlessly sprint up the leaderboard Saturday in the Senior Players Championship and figured it was time for his putter to start cooperating.
Three birdies over the final five holes restored some order as Couples took a step closer to his first victory of the season.
The Hall of Famer finished with a 3-under 67 and was at 15-under 195 at rain-soaked and toothless Fox Chapel, two strokes clear of the hard-charging Perry. Couples already has three runner-up finishes this season. He has no plans to make it four.
“If I go out and play well, I have a great shot at winning,” Couples said. “I’m certainly not going to be thinking about second place.”
It appeared that’s all the rest of the field was playing for after Couples ripped off seven birdies in 11 holes of the second round Friday before a midafternoon downpour halted play for the day.
The deluge cooled off Couples. He two-putted from 60 feet on the par-3 third when he returned to the course Saturday morning, then made five straight pars before finishing his round off with a birdie on the par-4 ninth for an 8-under 62.
Tying the record for the lowest score in a major on the Champions Tour should have provided Couples with some breathing room. Instead, Perry made it close.
Perry began the day as a speck in Couples’ rearview mirror before the Kentucky player made three birdies and an eagle over the final six holes of the second round for a 7-under 63. He backed it up six hours later with another flawless 63, using his length off the tee and a new putter to chase down the frontrunning Couples.
After a lethargic 71 in the first round left him frustrated, Perry switched putters to one with more loft hoping it would help keep the ball online on the soggy and cleat-marked greens.
The decision paid off handsomely as Perry set a tournament record for the lowest score in consecutive rounds. Perry joked he was inspired by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He watched from the second row on Friday night as Pittsburgh crushed the Milwaukee Brewers 10-3 to move to 49-30 on the season, the best record in baseball.
“It was pretty awesome,” Perry said.
So were most of the scores at the rolling course about 10 miles up the Allegheny River from PNC Park. Rain during the week forced officials to allow players to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairways. The quick, treacherous test the players endured during their last visit to Fox Chapel a year ago instead looked like a pitch and putt for longer players like Perry and Couples.
Duffy Waldorf birdied his final two holes for a 66 to remain in striking distance at 11 under. First-round leader John Huston briefly tied Couples for the lead but faltered on the back nine, bogeying the last two holes to shoot 68 and finish five shots back of Couples. Mike Goodes had a 65 to match Huston at 10 under.