PITTSBURGH — Fred Couples birdied three of the final five holes for a 3-under 67 and a two-stroke lead Saturday after the third round of the Senior Players Championship.
Couples completed a 62 in the morning in the rain-delayed second round and had a 15-under 195 total at Fox Chapel.
Kenny Perry was second in the Champions Tour major. He finished off a 63 in the morning and backed it up with another 63 in the afternoon. Duffy Waldorf was third at 11 under after rounds of 67 and 66.
First-round leader John Huston briefly pulled into a tie with Couples early in the third round, but bogeyed the final two holes for a 68 to join Mike Goodes (65) at 10 under.
The 53-year-old Couples appeared ready to run away with the tournament Friday, when he streaked to 7 under through 11 holes of the second round before a torrential downpour halted play for the day.
The deluge cooled Couples off a bit. He two-putted from 60 feet on the par-3 third when he returned to the course Saturday morning then rolled in five straight pars before finishing his round off with a birdie on the par-4 ninth for an 8-under 62.
The score matched the lowest ever in one of the Champions Tour’ five majors. Several players have reached the mark in the tour’s 34 seasons, with Olin Browne being the last in the second round of last year’s Senior Players.
It’s a number Perry nearly matched twice in the span of six hours. Perry played the last six holes of the second round Saturday morning in 4 under — including an eagle on the short par-4 seventh — to get within six shots of the Couples after 36 holes.
The Kentucky player kept coming when he teed off one group in front of the leaders Couples and Huston in the afternoon, putting together seven birdies against no bogeys to set a tournament record for the best score over 36 holes. Perry’s combined total of 14-under 126 in the second and third rounds is two better than the 128 Jack Nicklaus posted in 1990 when the tournament was held in Dearborn, Mich.
Perry briefly created a three-way logjam with Couples and Huston when he birdied the 12th and Couples three-putted the 10th green for bogey.
The missed opportunity seemed to wake Couples up. Frustrated he couldn’t take advantage of the soft conditions that led to Perry’s assault on the par-70 layout, Couples birdied Nos. 14 and 15, then capped his round with a splendid pitch from in front of the left bunker on the par-5 18th, allowing him to roll in a birdie to give him a two-shot cushion over Perry.
It’s familiar territory for Couples, who is searching for his third major title since joining the Champions Tour in 2010. He won the Senior Players in 2011 at Westchester Country Club in New York and the Senior British Open last year. The Hall of Famer was in position to capture the Regions Tradition earlier this month but fell one shot short in a showdown with points leader David Frost.
This time it appears the duel will be with Perry, who is pain-free after dealing with knee problems earlier in the season.