Despite Third Straight Pairing With Couples, 1982 U.S. Open Champ Can't Match Hometown Hero's Effort July 30, 2010 By Dave Shedloski, David Shefter and Justin Hancher

Tom Watson was a little off his game on Saturday, shooting a 75. But his fellow competitor and playing partner the past three days, Fred Couples, carded a championship-low 65. (John Mummert/USGA)

Sammamish, Wash. – Past U.S. Open champion Tom Watson had a front-row seat to the scintillating 65 Fred Couples fired on Saturday at Sahalee Country Club that put him in the 54-hole lead with Bernhard Langer at 5-under 205. Watson felt more like a spectator than a competitor after he struggled to a 75 playing alongside the hometown favorite.

Seventy-five doesn't deserve much of a talk. I didn’t have a lot going today, Watson, 60, said after being paired with Couples for the third straight day. "Freddy played well; I played lousy, and he's in a good position to win the tournament."

The eight-time major champion, who hit only seven fairways and nine greens in regulation while making seven bogeys and just two birdies, has played in the midst of enormous crowds many times in his career. That was the case as recently as two weeks ago at the British Open at St. Andrews, likely his last British Open appearance at the Old Course.

Saturday’s enthusiastic galleries were welcome even if his golf wasn’t up to his usual standards.

It was high energy, Watson said. A lot of loud cheering and excitement. It was something that we love to play in front of out here. We don’t get crowds like this on our tour very often.

Last year at Crooked Stick [near Indianapolis] we had enormous crowds. It’s a tribute to the USGA going to places where people are starved for golf in a certain sense. It’s a great formula for success. It’s a lot of fun to play in front of crowds like this with the exception of playing so lousy.

Cook’s Run Stalled

Birdies on the first two holes propelled John Cook to three under par and within a shot of leader Bernhard Langer early Saturday, but as many players have discovered this week, sustaining momentumis difficult.

I hit some good shots and then just lost my momentum, said Cook, who ended up shooting 72 to fall back into a tie for fifth place at 1-over 211, six behind leaders Langer and Couples with one round to go. I had a good thing going. But No. 8 I got one of those funny kicks into a bunker. Rally killer. I make birdie at 11, then hit a poor tee shot at 12. Then I three-putted 14. I hit it close at 15 and missed it and close at 16 and missed it. I could have been up there.

Cook, the 1979 U.S. Amateur champion, said he didn’t strike the ball as well as he did the first two rounds, but he couldn’t believe how many shots he gave back. I had plenty of chances early and didn’t capitalize, and after that when I put myself in a bad position, I made bogeys.

Still, he was not discouraged. I feel good about my game and my ability to play this golf course. I get it. I know what to do. You just got to be really tidy.

Pike’s Peek

With an odd number of players surviving the 36-hole cut, one competitor, Bill Sautter, was forced to start the third round by himself. Having the option of playing solo or using a non-scoring marker, Sautter chose the latter.

Jim Pike, Sahalee’s director of golf, answered the call and oddly, both golfers play full shots right-handed but putt lefty.

Pike, who normally shoots around par on the course, carded a 79, one more than Sautter. But Pike had good reason to be a bit rusty. He had not played since July 14, and that was just nine holes.

Pike, who has been at Sahalee for 23 years, is in charge of the merchandise tent this week, and has been busy keeping inventory stocked, folding clothes, greeting people and handling security duties.

It was a real treat because we don’t see these [playing] conditions often, said Pike. I was telling Bill this is the second time I’ve seen these conditions. The first time was during the 1998 PGA Championship.

Even with a 7:04 a.m. PDT starting time, fans were out early to cheer the two players.

It was awesome. It was so much fun. A lot of our members were out there cheering me on so it was pretty special for me, said Pike.

The highlight of Pike’s round came at the par-3 ninth, where he made a 2.

I hit a 5-iron in from about 180 yards to 4 feet and made the putt, said Pike. It was a treat, especially around the clubhouse and the gallery.

Barring a withdrawal, the same situation will occur on Sunday. Pike said he would be available if the call came.

My score doesn’t matter but it would be a blast to go out there and play again and be a marker, he said. Just go out, have fun and enjoy the conditions of the golf course.

Quick Fix

Olin Browne was forced to use 13 clubs on Friday when his pitching wedge became dislodged from the shaft while he was warming up. It was too late to get a replacement, but he still managed to shoot an even-par 70.

A member of the Sahalee pro shop staff managed to reattach the head of the club Friday night so Browne could use it on Saturday.

It made it back in the bag for two swings, said Browne, who carded another 70 with 14 clubs in the bag. Neither one of them resulted in anything great, but [it] didn’t hurt me either.

They did a nice job [repairing it]. Rather than break it apart and put it back together again, I just left it as is. I’ll get it fixed perfectly next week.

Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites. David Shefter and Justin Hancher are both members of the USGA communications staff.