Craig Stadler grabs outright lead at Encompass Championship

June 23, 2013

GLENVIEW, Ill. (AP) – Craig Stadler was sick of playing bad golf. The 1982 Masters winner had been scoring in the high 70s and low 80s too often while dealing with back, hip and foot ailments, and kept doing so when fully healthy.

It was so bad, he considered quitting the game.

“I was probably close to that point three months ago,'' Stadler said Saturday after firing a 7-under 65 at North Shore Country Club to take the lead in the Encompass Championship with a total of 12-under 132.

He went to teacher Billy Harmon in Palm Springs, Calif., in a last-ditch effort to repair his game.

“Billy's standing there and he said, `What are we doing?' " Stadler recalled. “I said, `You've got two days to fix it or I'm done, very simple.' It's not fixed, but shooting in the 60s is a lot better than shooting 78s and 82s.

“It was no fun, and it was getting to be embarrassing.''

The 60-year-old Stadler says his makeover isn't complete, but he's playing more like the Stadler of old rather than an old Stadler.

He shot 67 on Friday to share the lead with four other players, then raced ahead of the field on Saturday morning. Stadler holds a two-stroke lead on Bob Tway and Jeff Sluman entering the final round.

Stadler hasn't won on the Champions Tour since 2004. The declining quality of his play the last few years finally triggered soul searching, and the makeover with Harmon.

“I've just played rotten,'' Stadler said. “I kind of went on a mission a month ago, and it was either try to figure out what the heck I'm doing wrong and fix it or I'm going to quit. It's kind of getting fixed. I have to think about four, five different thoughts on every shot.''

His putting on Saturday was unconscious. He took only 23 putts, one-putting 11 greens. Putting and his short game have come back.

“Once you start doing this for a lifetime, you kind of have it in your blood and you either keep going or you become totally noncompetitive and you just quit,'' Stadler said. “I wasn't very good early this week, but it's gotten better each day, so we'll see.''

Stadler had only one bogey on his card, and scored seven of his eight birdies with putts of between 1-20 feet. His other birdie came on a 15-yard bunker shot he holed on the par-3 12th hole.

Tway also shot a 65 to gain a share of second, while Sluman's 66 included eight birdies and two bogeys.

David Frost was fourth, three strokes back after a 67 that included six birdies.

Steve Pate, Mark Calcavecchia, Tom Lehman and Bernhard Langer were tied for fifth at 8 under. Calcavecchia and Langer added 69s to their opening 67s, while Pate and Lehman shot 66 in the second round.

Stadler shared the overnight lead with Langer, Calcavecchia, Duffy Waldorf and Esteban Toledo.

The 65s by Stadler and Tway were a stroke off the course record set by Bo Hoag, then playing for Ohio State, during Northwestern's Windon Classic in 2010.

Tway was 6-under on his last seven holes thanks to a 6-foot eagle putt on the par-5 11th and birdies on four of his last five holes, the last a 30-footer from the fringe that fell into the cup.

Sluman birdied four straight holes down the stretch to threaten the lead.

“The golf course wasn't easy, but with all the rain, the greens were receptive to shots,'' Sluman said. “And I kept myself out of trouble.''

Pate's 66 included seven birdies in his first 15 holes before a bogey at the par-4 seventh, his 16th hole of the day. Lehman's 66 featured four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

Tway made only one birdie on his front nine. The key to his inward 6-under 30 was a brilliant 3-iron to 6 feet on the par-5 11th hole. He made the putt for eagle, parred the next two holes, then sank birdie putts on four of the last five, including the big 30-footer at the home hole.

Like Stadler, who hasn't won since 2004, Tway has been in a slump.

The 54-year-old has yet to win on the Champions Tour.

“My game has not been what I think it should be,'' Tway said. “My scoring has not been very good; chipping, putting, wedge play, all the stuff. I just continue to work on it. Today was better.''