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Saturday at the Senior Open


Editor's Note: Tony Dear has been reporting all week on the U.S. Senior Open from Sahalee Country Club. Here are Tony's observations of some of the wonderful mix of characters that make one of America's major golf championships so special.

Putter Not Required

With the putting surfaces as tough as they are this week, it obviously makes sense to put the ball in the hole before you actually reach the green. Three players holed full iron shots from the fairway in today's third round (actually, one was a wood) making eagle twos on par-4s that smartened up otherwise indifferent scorecards.

First up was Javier Sanchez from Palo Alto, Calif.

Well, I say he's from Palo Alto, but actually he was born in the mountains outside Mexico City where he grew up without electricity, running water and, of course, the slightest idea of what golf was. Sanchez "borrowed" a green card at the age of 17 and wound up in Redwood City, Calif., where he cleaned hotel rooms, washed dishes and walked six miles home every night because he didn't understand which bus to take.

After learning English and becoming a U.S. citizen Sanchez got a job as a cook at a Palo Alto course, where someone suggested he try playing golf and, yes, he was one of those fortunate people who take to the game quickly. He turned professional within a few years and then started trying to qualify for the PGA Tour. He never made it, but now has his sights set on qualifying full-time on the Champions Tour.

Anyway, Sanchez set the ball rolling on Saturday's "Two Fest" with a 6-iron from 163 yards at the fourth. "I was just trying to hit it soft, and it was perfect," he said. "I knew it was going to be close, and then the crowd started yelling. I did it for the people."

It's unlikely Mark Calcavecchia was doing it for the people when he holed his second at the 10th from 175 yards using a 7-iron. But it got "Calc" back on the leaderboard at 1-over-par before three bogeys over his last four holes sent him to 2-over 72 and back into a tie for 12th.

The third hole-out was the most impressive of all as it came on the daunting 18th, the second-most-difficult hole all week - .049 of a stroke easier than the eighth, which surprises me because I made a par at the eighth when I played here a few weeks ago and an unmentionable on the 18th.

California's 50-year-old Jeff Hart left himself 200 yards to the green at the uphill 470-yarder and used his 4-wood for his approach, which pitched short and ran into the hole. Four-over for the day at the time, the eagle gave him a 72 that put him into a tie for 24th.

Surprise Tee-Time

Jim Pike, Sahalee's director of golf, got an unexpected early-morning tee time when he was called upon to act as marker for Bill Sautter, who made the cut on the number at 150. Interestingly, Sautter, the teaching pro at Philadelphia Cricket Club (which has three golf courses) plays right-handed until he arrives on the green where he switches to a lefty - just like Pike. The host professional shot a 9-over 79, which wasn't all bad considering he hasn't played for two weeks. "It was a real treat because we don't see these conditions often," Pike said of his home course. "I told Bill this is the second time I've seen the course like this. The first was in 1998 for the PGA."

In the Zone with Couples & Watson

On Saturday, the crowd of 28,967 was crammed in between Sahalee's ropes and trees, 28,960 of them apparently following Fred "Homeboy" Couples (the other seven wanted to follow him but felt sorry for Bernhard Langer and J.R. Roth in the final group so hung back with them) and his partner for the third day in a row, Tom Watson.

I exorcised my right as an incredibly hard-working (and incredibly fortunate) golf media member to don the revered green "MEDIA" armband and duck inside the ropes. Naturally, I headed straight for Couples and Watson and found them on the 10th green. I parked myself near the 11th tee and waited.

There followed a 15-minute delay because the 11th is one of those par-5s where groups tend to stack up. I expected a good deal of banter between the two players, but they were curiously silent. Couples sort of gazed off into the distance somewhere, thinking either about how he was going to draw his tee shot into the middle of the fairway before threading a long-iron between the trees and onto the green; either that, or by how many runs the Mariners were going to lose tonight.

Watson sat on the bench tapping his toes (I wondered if he had an iPod on) and then stood up to rehearse his swing, though quite why the eight-time major champion needs to practice his brilliant, timeless swing is beyond me. It looked like he was focusing on the takeaway and the movement of his hips.

As Loren Roberts and Michael Allen eventually cleared the hole ahead, Couples dropped a ball on the ground, tidied up the area around it, took out a 3-wood and calmly spanked the ball 280 yards down the fairway.

Is This Exciting or What?

Sunday could be one of the biggest days in Seattle sports history. Because of Couples' position atop the leaderboard - tied for the lead with Langer at 5-under-par, five shots ahead of Chien Soon Lu and Tom Kite who are tied for third - 30,000 eager fans might make it out to Sahalee for the final round.

The excitement will be palpable long before the final group tees off, and the noise deafening if, and when, Couples takes the outright lead. He'll be able to count on at least 98% of the support, and if he wins they'll be tooting their horns and waving Freddie flags in "downtown" Sammamish and his old neighborhood around Jefferson Park Municipal Golf Course on Seattle's Beacon Hill.

As a long-time Couples fan and a European, I'm in the enviable position of being able to enjoy the golf regardless of who wins. Really though, I want to see a royal battle between two of the greatest golfers of their generation. May the best man win.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it increasingly difficult for him to focus on Politics (his chosen major) and, after dropping out, he ended up teaching golf at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a "player." He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. In 2009, Tony won first place for Editorial/Opinion in the ING Media Awards for Cybergolf. The article (http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_newsa_euros_take_on_the_2008_ryder_cup_matches) that impressed the judges was the one about Europe's Ryder Cup team and Captain Nick Faldo's decision to pick Paul Casey and Ian Poulter rather than Darren Clarke.