All he needed was a solid round, and he could have made things interesting for Tiger Woods. Not to mention giving a thrill to all those hometown fans braving the heat and humidity.
But Verplank spent too much time under the trees and in the rough Saturday to make up any ground at the PGA Championship. Instead, he slid backward -- waaay back.
'I really just didn't play any good, honestly,' he said. 'I mean, there was really no two ways about it.'
By the time he staggered into the clubhouse with a 4-over 74, he'd dropped from second place into a seven-way tie for sixth. After getting star billing playing in the last group Saturday with Woods, he's been reduced to an also-ran.
At least he's got company.
Geoff Ogilvy (74), John Daly (73), Stuart Appleby (72) -- they all backed up, too. For the few who did make a move, it did little good. Stephen Ames shot a 1-under 69 to move into second place, and he's still three strokes behind Woods.
Ernie Els started his back nine with three birdies in four holes, and all it got him was a 69 that left him six strokes back. Boo Weekley flirted with a 63 before settling for a 65, and Woods still has seven strokes on him.
'Tiger, he's not making the mistakes I'm making,' Els said. 'In a way, that's frustrating. But in a way, that's got to be a positive, too. If I can start eliminating these mistakes, I can really start challenging for tournaments again.'
But it might be too late for everybody at Southern Hills.
Woods didn't make a run at history Saturday, as he did in the second round when his putt for 62 lipped out of the 18th hole. He shot a methodical 1-under 69, doing nothing spectacular except staying in the red. And in the lead. Woods is 12-0 when he takes at least a share of the lead into the final round of major.
'He's playing the golf course very smart,' Verplank said. 'When you hit a lot of fairways with irons -- and he's hitting a lot of greens -- and you putt like he does, it doesn't look that difficult.'
After playing so smoothly the first two days, almost everything Verplank did looked difficult, and the difference was only accentuated by watching him go directly against Woods. He was erratic off the tee and hit only nine of 14 fairways. He reached only 10 of 18 greens in regulation.
Somebody even stepped on his ball.
'I guess I slept wrong,' he said when asked to explain the difference. 'Just the same stuff that I always do when I don't play like I feel I should. Got a little quick, got a couple of really bad lies, which I know everybody does. But I guess since I haven't been in the rough very much the first two days, I didn't know it was that bad.'
About the only thing he had going for him was a very loud and proud gallery.
Verplank went to Oklahoma State and still lives in Edmond, a 90-minute drive from Southern Hills, and the locals were thrilled to see one of their own playing with Woods on Saturday. There were shouts of 'Go Cowboys!' and 'O-S-U!' and plenty of Oklahoma State orange.
There was even a guy wearing an Oklahoma State jersey and helmet -- true devotion on a day when the temperature was a sizzling 101 degrees.
'I feel bad that I didn't keep it up and stay in there a little bit better with Tiger,' Verplank said. 'The first eight, 10 holes, I kind of got to see what it's like for him when people are always yelling. Pulling for him and all that.'
Verplank actually got within a stroke of Woods early -- for about a minute. He made birdie on No. 4, then watched Woods do the same.
Then things began to unravel.
He sprayed his tee shot into the rough on the par-5 No. 5, and didn't fare much better on his next three shots. He actually advanced the ball a decent distance with his second shot, but he was still in that thick, fluffy Bermuda.
Shot No. 3 went all of about 120 yards and found, if it was possible, even deeper rough. He finally got out of that with his fourth shot, only to land short of the green. He chipped on, and made the putt for a bogey.
But it was a double bogey on the par-4 12th that really ruined his round. He was in the trees off the tee and clipped one as he tried to come out.
'Just pulled my tee shot, stayed in the rough and had a lie I thought I could get and obviously I couldn't,' Verplank said. 'That was a big deal. I guess looking back, I should have played more conservatively, but, you know, I did what I thought was right and it wasn't.'
He had three more bogeys over his last five holes, including three-putting for one on 18.
'I still felt like I was going to play good, but you know, it didn't happen,' Verplank said. 'Maybe tomorrow I'll have that miracle round. I kind of went the opposite way today.'