Champions Insider: Fittingly, it's down to Langer, Couplestext sizeBernhard Langer (left) and Fred Couples (right) have battled each other for nearly 30 years in major championships, Ryder Cups -- and now, as the only two players with a real chance at the Charles Schwab Cup.November 03, 2010
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
They are the two remaining candidates with a chance to win the bonus $1 million annuity for season-long excellence. Langer holds a substantial lead and Couples needs no less than victory at Harding Park Golf Course.
While Langer and Couples, who have won nine events between them this season, stage their duel, the 28 other golfers in the elite field will have their eyes on a tournament victory that turns a good year into an excellent campaign and an excellent campaign into great.
That's what defending champion John Cook achieved last year with his five-stroke victory over Russ Cochran. And Cook is poised to do it again. He is fashioning another late-season charge and is in an increasingly large group capable of stealing the thunder.
The 72-hole Charles Schwab Cup Championship has a $2.5 million purse, with $440,000 and 880 Charles Schwab Cup points to the winner.
That last number is significant because Langer, with 3,207 points accumulated over the 26-event schedule, holds a 582-point lead over Couples. Cochran, third in the points standing, is 1,617 points behind Langer.
So it's down to Langer and Couples.
Langer has won five times this year and is well on his way to collecting an unprecedented third straight Player of the Year.
Charles Schwab CupBernhard Langer is on target to win a third consecutive Jack Nicklaus Trophy as well as the Arnold Palmer Award as the tour's leading money winner. Storylines | Tee TimesIt might be a Bernhard-Freddie show this weekend, but not if a red-hot Russ Cochran can help it. Check out Vartan Kupelian's top five for this week's season finale at Harding Park. Power Rankings
Only once in nine years has the Schwab Cup points leader been overtaken in the finale. It happened in 2005 when Tom Watson, taking advantage of triple points (the last time triple points were available before the system was modified), rallied past Dana Quigley to win the Cup. The only player with a lock on the title, and the bonus, before the final event was Hale Irwin in 2002.
It's not just enough for Couples to win this week. Langer remains in control of his destiny. He can win the bonus if he finishes no worse than a two-way tie for fourth place and nets 299-plus points to win the Cup.
Even if Couples wins to reach five wins, the same total as Langer, the Player of the Year edge goes to Langer based on his two major victories. Langer won the Senior British Open and the U.S. Senior Open (over Couples) back-to-back.
Couples dominated the opening stages of the 2010 season. After narrowly losing to Tom Watson in Hawaii, Couples won his next three starts in impressive fashion. Then, despite some strong play and three runner-up finishes, including a playoff loss to Tom Lehman at the Senior PGA, Couples didn't win again until last month at the Administaff Small Business Classic in Houston.
Langer never took his foot off the pedal. Beginning at the ACE Group Classic, he had five top four finishes in six starts, including victories at Allianz and the Outback Steakhouse. He put it on cruise control and won three more times, including the first majors of his Champions Tour career.
Couples finally won again at the Administaff for his fourth victory as a Champions Tour rookie. He shot 29 on the back nine for 63 in the final round to earn 265 Schwab Cup points and give himself at least an outside chance this week.
It was largely a product of the work Couples put in with his swing instructor, Paul Marchand, early in tournament week.
"A lot of good things clicked," Couples said. "I just felt much better on the course. I hit the ball very, very well, and the putting was crazy. I've never made that many putts.
"I don't even know if I ever putted like that on the PGA TOUR ever. I considered myself to be a pretty good putter. Then it got to where it wasn't as good when I got older. But I've never putted like I have this year. I mean I'm leading in putting. And there are a lot more people out there that putt better than I do. But it's just one of those things."
Couples will need another superlative putting week at Harding Park if he's to win and catch Langer.
Couples conceded Langer an advantage by skipping two Champions Tour majors and with them the opportunity to earn double points. Couples, who has played 16 events, six fewer than Langer, already is mapping out an increased schedule for 2011.
"If you take away the six or seven times I played on the regular TOUR, that will give me 18, 19 events," Couples said. "So that's more than enough for me to play and possibly win the Schwab Cup. But to say I want to play every week and win the Schwab Cup is not my goal, but to win it sure is, because it's a huge deal and it's going to take a minor miracle to do that (this year).
"I've finished second enough this year."
Champions Tour Insider Vartan Kupelian is a freelance contributor for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.