SONOMA, Calif.(AP) Yet another rain shower chased Andy Bean off the course shortly after dawn. When he finally got started on the 32 holes left in the waterlogged Charles Schwab Cup Championship on Sunday, he put his first approach shot in a bunker.
His next wedge went 45 feet straight into the hole, dropping with a grace that thrilled a 55-year-old career grinder who had rarely felt this good on a golf course in his life.
“This is the way to start a day,” Bean said to himself.
And it only got brighter from there.
Bean breezed through nearly two full rounds of play to win the Champions Tour’s season-ending event, blowing away the elite 29-man field with a nine-stroke victory over Gene Jones.
Jay Haas also had reason to celebrate at Sonoma Golf Club despite his 16th-place finish at 4-under 284. Haas claimed the Schwab Cup in Northern California for the second time in three years as the winner of the tour’s season-long points competition.
But Haas was no competition for Bean, who made six birdies in the first nine holes of his final-round 66 to finish at 20-under 268, equaling Jim Thorpe’s four-round tournament scoring record. The mellow Floridian never feels quite right on California grass, but even Bean was impressed by his world-beating play.
“The whole day, I was very comfortable,” said Bean, whose margin of victory was the tour’s largest this season. “I was just hitting a lot of shots right at the flags. I didn’t really have to scramble too much, except really the first hole that I played. … The front nine (on the final round) was one of those rounds you just wish for.”
Bean earned $442,000 – the biggest paycheck of his golfing life – from the $2.5 million purse for his second Champions Tour victory of the season, just the third of his career. Haas claimed a $1 million annuity by winning the Schwab Cup.
Haas won the Schwab Cup despite getting no points Sunday after finishing out of the top 10. That’s because Fred Funk and Bernhard Langer, his main competition for the crown, also didn’t earn any points.
“It’s a little strange,” Haas said. “Most of the time when you win something, you beat everybody that week. … I was real fortunate that nobody right behind me did what they had to do. I guess it’s like NASCAR, when the guy that’s holding the big major trophy at the end didn’t win anything that week.”
Langer won the tour’s overall scoring title and the Arnold Palmer Award as the Champions’ money leader. He was the only player who took home more than $2 million this year, collecting $2,035,073.
Steady rain on Saturday forced the golfers to complete their third rounds Sunday morning, but Bean only added to his slim second-round lead despite intermittent rain in the heart of wine country. He then got rolling to begin his fourth round with a string of birdies, burying Jones and playing partner Nick Price, who finished 12 strokes behind Bean in a six-way tie for fifth place at 280.
Bean is in his sixth full season on the Champions Tour after winning 11 PGA Tour events. He had won just once on the senior circuit before this season, earning a previous career-best $240,000 check at the Greater Hickory Classic in 2006 for his first tournament victory of any kind in 20 years.
Bean missed several months of play late last season and early this year with a pinched nerve in his back, but he came back strong with a victory last May at the Regions Charity Classic in Alabama.
Bean doesn’t like wearing rain gear because it limits his backswing, but the skies cleared enough to allow him to shed it during the third round – and his comfort quickly became obvious. His run of superb play culminated in a perfect putt off the fringe on the ninth hole.
“I started giggling, because it was going in, too,” Bean said.
He gave a disbelieving wave to the gallery after glancing at the leaderboard and realizing he probably couldn’t be beaten.
“The back nine was an enjoyable walk, because all I had to do was keep driving the ball the way I did, and the rest was going to set itself up,” Bean said. “Golly, I hit a lot of good shots this week. I hit a lot of good shots right off the flag.”
Haas has been the Champions Tour’s most consistent player for three straight years. He won the Schwab Cup and the Arnold Palmer Award as the tour’s money leader in 2006, then claimed Player of the Year honors and another Arnold Palmer trophy last season despite finishing second to Loren Roberts for the Schwab Cup.
Haas wasn’t terribly impressive in Sonoma, never emerging from the pack, but was tremendously consistent all season. He had two victories and 15 top-10 finishes – including four straight to start the season and four more in a row to finish it.
Haas led Fred Funk by just 12 points for the Schwab Cup entering the tournament, but Funk struggled even more mightily than Haas, finishing at even par in a tie for 25th place.
Jones, a veteran of several mini-tours who also caddied for fellow Champions Tour player Tim Conley, had 10 top-10 finishes in his rookie season on the tour, culminating in this career-best $255,000 payday that gave him a remarkable $1,022,061 in winnings for the year.
Brad Bryant missed a short putt on the 18th to fall out of a tie with Jones, costing himself about $200,000 with one yip. Bryant finished third at 10 under.