SAN ANTONIO (AP) — John Cook has been playing Oak Hills for parts of the last three decades, rarely with this much at stake.
Cook is the two-time defending champion in the AT&T Championship, which starts Friday, and he will try for the first time in his career to win the same tournament three straight years.
“I’m looking forward to it for sure,” Cook said. “I’ve won back-to-back tournaments before, but never had a chance to make it three in a row.”
The timing could not be better.
Cook is coming off his first Champions Tour victory of the season last week outside Houston, which moved him up to fifth in the Charles Schwab Cup standings. And with only two events left, Cook is still in the hunt for the $1 million annuity for winning the points race.
This is turning out to be one of the closest Schwab Cup races ever.
Loren Roberts, who won the cup two years ago, has a 165-point lead over Fred Funk going to Oak Hills, designed by A.W. Tillinghast and formerly site of the Texas Open on the PGA Tour.
Bernhard Langer, whose four Champions Tour victories are more than anyone this year, is No. 3 in the standings. Right behind is Jay Haas, who won the Schwab Cup last year.
Points are awarded for finishing in the top 10. Because the top five players are competing this week, all of them remain mathematically eligible to capture the $1 million annuity when the season ends next week in California.
Roberts has reason to feel like the favorite.
“I feel like I’ve put myself in good position on a course I really like and enjoy,” Roberts said. “I’ve played well and been consistent the last half of the year and that’s what it takes to do well in the Schwab Cup.”
After a slow start to the season, Roberts took an entire month off this summer, played in one PGA Tour event in Milwaukee, and has since come back with three victories, including the Senior British Open in July.
He has eight top-10 finishes in his last nine events to move past Langer, who led the Schwab race for the first six months of the season.
Cook hopes to keep moving up in the standings, with even more at stake. He has a chance to become the first player in the 25-year history of the tournament to win three consecutive times, and join Lee Trevino as the only three-time winner.
“I’ve always liked the Tillinghast look – the tiny greens and the ability to be able to use exact distance control and hit the ball to the right spot at the right height,” Cook said.
Funk also is a former AT&T Championship winner, having won three years ago. Nobody has had more success in Oak Hills than Haas, with two Texas Open victories and a Champions Tour win.
“It’s just like being at home,” Haas said. “It’s a really comfortable feeling in a place I enjoy.”
Also entered this week are Peter Jacobsen, who has been slow to come back from a series of surgeries earlier in the year, fan favorites and Texas natives Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, and former Masters champion Fuzzy Zoeller.