SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Tom Lehman took the lead in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship and moved closer to becoming the first player to win the season points title two straight years.
Lehman birdied the final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-stroke lead over Fred Couples on Saturday in the Champions Tour's season-ending event. Couples also shot a 62 to join Lehman in the final group, making two eagles in a round that could have been much lower.
“I really like the pairing,'' Lehman said. “Hopefully, he plays his best, and, hopefully, I play my best and we'll see what happens. … You got to go out there and make birdies and shoot low again.''
Lehman shot the lowest round of his Champions Tour career for the second straight day. At 63-62 and 15 under, he was a stroke off the tour record for consecutive rounds set by Bruce Fleisher at 60-64 and 16 under in the 2002 RJR Championship.
“I played really well the last two days, probably as well as I've played in six months,'' said Lehman, a two-time winner this year. “I hit the ball very solidly both days. I gave myself a lot of chances for birdie. I've made my share, obviously. I think the big thing though is the saves. I've made a couple of really amazing key saves over the last couple of days.''
Couples is playing for the first time since a back injury forced him to withdraw during the first round of the Boeing Classic outside Seattle in late August. Before this week, he hadn't completed a competitive round since winning the Senior British Open in July for his second victory of the year.
“If I can play like this every two months, I think I might finish my career playing four times a year and just say, “The heck with it,''' Couples said, joking.
Lehman was 17 under after three days in perfect conditions on Desert Mountain's Cochise Course. He entered the week second behind Bernhard Langer in the Charles Schwab Cup competition for a $1 million annuity.
Langer, tied for 10th at 6 under after a 70, was a projected 529 points behind Lehman after starting play Thursday with a 211-point lead. The tournament winner will get 880 points, with players receiving a point for every $500 they earn in the $2.5 million event.
Langer eagled the par-5 18th hole to get a little closer to Lehman, who would win the title with a tournament victory no matter where Langer finishes.
“I was certainly not happy with my day today,'' Langer said. “My mindset has to be aggressive tomorrow. I'll pretty much go at everything.''
Jay Haas, five strokes ahead of Lehman at the start of the round after matching the tour-record Friday with a 60, had a 69 to drop two strokes back.
“I just wasn't as sharp,'' Haas said. “But the birdie at the last hole still gives me a chance tomorrow, and leaves a better taste in my mouth.''
Lehman made his best par save on the par-4 16th, holing a bending 35-foot putt from the fringe after popping up a 3-wood drive into a rock outcropping in the middle of the fairway.
“I might have teed it up a hair too high, but I just popped it up and it landed right in the rocks,'' Lehman said. “I actually got kind of lucky that I could at least chip it out and hit a 9-iron.''
His putt broke about 5 feet.
“It was one of those ones, quite frankly, I was just hoping to get close,'' Lehman said. “It was going to take my licking and keep on ticking with a bogey.''
He then holed a 20-footer for birdie on the par-3 17th and got up and down for birdie from the front greenside bunker on the 18.
Couples chipped in for eagle on the par-5 eighth, his low runner veering to the right in the last few feet. He hit a 3-iron from 239 yards to 8 feet on the par-5 15th to set up his second eagle, and got to 16 under with a 20-foot birdie putt on 17.
He also missed five birdie tries inside 12 feet in the middle of the round, and settled for a par on the 18 after hitting his approach into the greenside bunker well left of the flag.
“I did leave a couple out there, but I made a couple of nice 20-footers and, obviously, chipped in on No. 8 for eagle,'' Couples said.