Typical cool, damp San Francisco weather closed in for the third round of the Schwab Cup Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco today, but it didn’t seem to affect warm-blooded Palm Springs resident Fred Couples, who got one step closer to his first win of the season today, stretching his 36-hole, 2-stroke lead to 5 strokes after a round of 68.
Putting the bogey he made on the opening hole in his rearview mirror and never looking back, Couples owned the three par-five holes on the 7,127-yard, par-71 TPC Harding Park layout today with three birdies, throwing in a birdie at the 467-yard, par-4 sixteenth hole as relish, extending his lead to five strokes over a new 2nd-place contender, Mark O’Meara.
Responding to a question about playing with a lead, Couples said “When I’m doing well and playing with a lead, or one behind, or one or two or three ahead, I try and put the hammer down, but if I’m two behind top players, it seem like every shot becomes ‘I need to make this 5-foot putt, because then I’ll only be one back. When you’re behind, you’re trying to catch up, every shot, everything is really important – and to be honest, I don’t do well with that.’ ”
Taking over second place from Peter Senior, after the Australian slipped back with a 1-over 72 today, is Couples’ longtime friend Mark O’Meara. Couples and O’Meara shared a motel room during the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School in 1980, were paired together in the final round of the final stage two weeks later in Fresno, CA, and after qualifying in the last and second-to-last spots there, have stayed eligible and had remarkably parallel careers ever since.
O’Meara, the 1998 Masters and Open Championship winner, also birdied all three par-fives at TPC Harding Park today, and bracketed a bogey four at the seventeenth hole with birdies at holes sixteen and eighteen, carding a 4-under 67. O’Meara and Couples will be paired together for the final round.
“He’ll be hard to beat, no question,” O’Meara said, “He’s driven the ball well with that new driver, and he’s putting well.”
Two more players with momentum going into the final round are 2011 & 2012 Schwab Cup champion Tom Lehman, and Champions Tour rookie Rocco Mediate. Lehman carded the low round of the third day with a 65 that included a bogey on the sixth hole, moving him up eight places on the leaderboard into solo 3rd place. Mediate also moved up eight spots, to T7, when he followed a pair of 1-under 70s with a 3rd-round 66 – one of only two bogey-free rounds on the day.
Kenny Perry all but assured of 2013 Schwab Cup title
The run for the Schwab Cup itself, and the $1 million top prize, seems to be pretty well tied up for Kenny Perry, despite his current T-7 position. His only rival for the season-long title, Bernhard Langer, must win the tournament, with Perry finishing no better than a five-way tie for fourth, or a two-way tie for fifth, in order to claim the title in the season-long race.
Langer shot an even-par 71 today, and is currently in a three-way tie for seventh with Perry and Mediate. If Fred Couples holds on for the tournament win, he’ll finish in third place in the Schwab Cup race, picking up a $300,000 bonus on top of the $440,000 tournament winner’s purse.