LAKE ORION, Mich. — Bernhard Langer was two strokes behind when the day started. He was four strokes ahead when it ended. He manhandled par with 9 birdies in 18 holes. He shot 64, the lowest round of the tournament.
Just how did that happen?
During the first 12 holes of Saturday’s third round at Indianwood Golf & Country Club, Langer grabbed the U.S. Senior Open lead by the throat. With eight birdies and four pars through 12 holes, he was 8 under for the day.
Coming off three consecutive birdies at 10, 11 and 12, Langer double bogeyed the par-3 13th hole. Could it be? It was like Superman running into kryptonite.
No matter. He added his 9th birdie of the day at 15, then cruised home until he three-putted from 100 feet for a closing bogey at 18.
The reality: Despite a double bogey and a bogey, Langer demolished the field in his quest for another U.S. Senior Open victory. He won the title in 2010, when he outplayed Fred Couples in the last round.
Heading into the final round of the 2012 championship, Langer is four strokes ahead of five players — Roger Chapman, John Huston, Tom Lehman, Corey Pavin and Tom Pernice.
This time around, Couples is five back, along with Fred Funk, Jay Haas and Dick Mast.
“I could tell you this much,” Couples said. “He’s not going to come back (to the field) tomorrow. So whoever it is — Corey and whoever — is going to have to play a remarkable round to win.”
Langer stitched together one of the best putting performances of his life, his nine birdies coming on putts of 20, 26, 12, 18, 28, 3, 4, 8 and 16 feet. Altogether he made 152 feet of putts during the round, an astounding total.
“It’s hard to put in words,” Langer said. “The only difference (today) really was just I made some putts. I probably played worse than I played the first two days. The first two days I made very little, and I guess the course owed me some. I made a bunch of putts today.”
On this day, he was hitting on all cylinders. Make that 12 cylinders, because it was a high-performance round of golf. Germany’s best golfer in history was as impressive as an expensive German automobile.
When a golfer putts well, there is a tendency to credit everything to putting: “Oh, he shot a low score because he made so many putts.”
This is often an exaggeration, because most birdie putts are set up by pinpoint iron shots. Langer, as most people know, is a superb iron player.
In fact, his most impressive statistic so far is not a putting stat. For 54 holes, Langer has hit 50 greens in regulation.
This is almost beyond belief. Pavin, for example, has hit 37 greens in regulation. Huston has hit 36.
One final observation about Langer’s putting: Prior to the start of Saturday’s third round, he warmed up with an unusual putting routine.
Most golfers, when they go to the practice putting green before a round of golf, take three balls with them. That is exactly what Lance Ten Broeck, the 36-hole leader at the Senior Open, did here at Indianwood.
Dave Stockton, the two-time major champion who has emerged as a prominent and successful putting instructor, tells his students to take two balls, not three, to the putting green.
Better concentration, Stockton explains.
Langer one-upped Stockton. Over and over, from one end of the putting green to the other, Langer hit just one putt. No second chances here. Obviously he was trying to recreate some of the putts he would face on the course.
This technique makes sense. It was a dress rehearsal. Langer would hit a 6-foot putt, then immediately hit a 50-foot putt. Among other factors, he was focusing closely on the green speed.
Perhaps all of us should pretend we are Bernhard Langer: Take one ball to the putting green, imagine that each putt is meaningful, don’t be casual about it.
There is nothing casual about Langer or the way he plays golf. He may be golf’s greatest concentrator. This makes him a slow player, so let us disregard that part of the Langer methodology.
Everything else, just do it as Langer does it. The lesson of the day: Be like Bernhard.