Big names at top of Gwinnett Championship

Good news from the Greater Gwinnett Championship: No more rain for Sunday’s final round, said the best guess from the weather experts. Frankly, some of these players were starting to turn a little pruny — a particularly alarming condition for the over-50 demographic.

Even better news: There was a little bit of shrinkage on the leaderboard, some competitive tightening that left Miguel Angel Jimenez with some work to do in the final round before he flamencos off with this title.

Jimenez was three shots worse Saturday than in his debut round on the Champions Tour the day before. That still was good enough for a 2-under 70, 9 under for the tournament and a one-shot lead.

All the right names were up there at the end of Saturday, close enough to pull on Jimenez’s ponytail.

It looked like Masters Old-Timers Day out there. One back of Jimenez was the tournament’s defending champion, Bernhard Langer. One more shot back was Fred Couples. That’s about as star-studded as you can get on this Tour, at least until Tiger Woods has the good sense to turn 50.

Those three will play together in the last group Sunday afternoon, but the Golf Channel still will cover the event with more than one camera.

“It will be a nice match (Sunday), yeah,” Jimenez said.

“Got a bunch of great players up there,” Langer said.

Everybody except Jimenez, it seemed, was shooting 68 on Saturday. It was all the rage. That score got both Langer and Couples back into contention. Five players were four back of Jimenez. That cluster included such Saturday 68-shooters as Jay Haas (father of Masters first-round leader Bill Haas). And Duffy Waldorf, who has more seconds than a stopwatch (OK, four career runners-up on this Tour), but no titles.

The gradually improving conditions led, not surprisingly, to better scoring. The field averaged a stroke better Saturday (72.7) than on Friday (73.7). Guys seem to play better — 31 rounds below par Saturday compared with just 18 on Friday — when they are not huddling together for warmth. No one, it seems, is going to be able to par-walk their way to a title Sunday.

Having played bogey-free golf Friday, Jimenez decided to spice up his second round a little more. He hit for the cycle his first four holes: birdie, par, bogey, double bogey. The double came courtesy of a pulled tee shot into the water on the front end and a three-putt on the back end.

But you can’t ruffle the guy. He has made it his mission to roll with life. According to one columnist’s report, Jimenez has been a high school dropout, a caddie, a soldier and a mechanic (his nickname, by the way). A double bogey hardly ranks as a major event. He played 4 under over his final 14 holes.

Langer began the day in a sluggish fashion — “missed a few shots and just didn’t get anything going, didn’t hit the ball close enough,” he said — before taking a bogey on No. 8. It required a low, screaming hook out of trouble at the par-4 ninth, a blind shot that rolled practically over the hole, to get his attention. “I was very pleased to see that ball on the green because if it doesn’t hook, it’s in the water,” Langer said.

He spent the back nine reeling in Jimenez, going 5 under on the back side. Langer would have shot 30 had he not three-putted for par on No. 18.

Couples was the stealthy one, putting together a solid round, getting his one bogey out of the way on his first hole and going low from then on. What rain? What gusts? What cold? The back feels fine when you are 7 under par and can smell a nice payday on the considerable wind.

The three of them seemed to be quite pleased to be staging this little reunion just one week after they struck a blow for men of a certain age at the Masters.

“I’m excited to play with Miguel again and Bernhard — that’s about as good a pairing as you’re going to get. I’m thrilled about that, (and) to have a shot at winning,” Couples said.

Kudos all around. And helpful contrasts, too, especially between the top two on the leaderboard.

“(Langer) is very competitive, a very good player. Very steady and also, how do you call it, I don’t know how to say it in English … methodic with everything,” Jimenez said.

The method behind Jimenez is a little more difficult to discern. Where Langer is buttoned-down and square-cut, Jimenez is all fuzzy around the edges. Where Langer went to the fitness trailer after his round Saturday, Jimenez came straight to the pressroom with a cigar in one hand and a cookie in the other.

Such differences, as well as some formidable competitive likenesses they all flashed just a week ago, will get a full hearing Sunday.