Insider: Crunch time arrives as Champions Tour hits final stretch before Schwab CupOctober 16, 2013
By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM
Russ Cochran knew the answer but he asked the question anyway for dramatic effect.
Who was the last golfer, before Cochran, to make four birdies in a row to close out a tournament?
That’s what Cochran did last week at the SAS Championship. He went birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie to hold off a hard-charging David Frost and win for the second time on the 2013 Champions Tour.
The answer to the question: Mark Calcavecchia.
Calcavecchia did it at the 2011 Boeing Championship. He birdied the final three holes in regulation play to force a playoff, then won it with a birdie on the first hole.
“Who did he do that against?” Cochran said.
He knows only too well. Calcavecchia’s comeback and victory came at Cochran’s expense so the left-hander was fully prepared not to let it happen again. Cochran’s final-round 67 for a 199 total at Prestonwood Country Club was good for a 1-shot victory over Frost. Their scores had plenty of symmetry - Cochran shot 66-66-67. Frost posted 67-67-66.
Cochran and Frost are among the seven golfers who have won twice each this year, a list headed by two-time major champion Kenny Perry, the Charles Schwab Cup points leader. Only this week’s Greater Hickory Kia Classic at Rock Barn Golf & Spa in Conover, N.C., and the AT&T Championship next week are left before the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at TPC Harding Park as the Champions Tour brings down the curtain on the 2013 season with four straight weeks of tournament action.
It’s crunch time, and it’s something the Champions Tour players are completely comfortable with, just as Cochran was at Prestonwood Country Club.
“You don't ever want to give a guy like David Frost another chance,” Cochran said. “He's a tremendous player, one of the best putters and short game guys I've ever seen. He is unbelievable. And you know he's a killer too, so you don't want to give him another chance.”
Cochran responded to the threat because he was prepared for what could happen – something usually does on the Champions Tour, especially at the SAS Championship.
“In this tournament it's different because the board moves pretty quickly,” Cochran said last week. “I knew someone was obviously going to get hot.”
That’s not at all dissimilar to the approach over the next couple of weeks in the countdown to the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. The players know they must keep moving forward – and upward – to be in position once the Champions Tour arrives at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. Tom Lehman is the two-time defending champion of the Charles Schwab Cup.
Cochran was not fixated on the leaderboards at Prestonwood. He delegated that job to his caddie and son, Ryan.
“He's keeping an eye on us,” Cochran said. “My rule of thumb is this: If I'm not going to play a hole any differently or wouldn't play it any differently if I'm trying to make birdie or not, then there's no need for me to know anything because I'm trying to keep that pressure up and make those birdies. There aren't any holes out there that are, OK, I'm going to hit a driver and sling it around the lake or something like that. So every hole, the strategy was similar.”
On the Champions Tour, the ability to rise to a challenge trumps most things.
“Anybody that loves to compete, they love that part of it and that part of it is fun,” Cochran said. “The cool part about golf, I think, is trying to put your finger on it, trying to make those putts, trying to hit the right shot at the right time, those type things. When you're doing it right and everything's clicking, you're making good decisions and finishing holes off, there's nothing better.”
The challenge at the Greater Hickory Kia Classic will also involve navigating a golf course damaged when it was hit by nine inches of rain in just three hours during a summer squall in January. As a result, the tournament will be played on a reconfigured course.
A combination of the Jones Course and the Jackson Course at Rock Barn Golf & Spa will be called the 'Champions Course.' The back nine holes of Jackson will serve as the front nine of the Champions Course, and holes one through six and 16 through 18 of the Jones will be played as the back nine of the Champions Course.
After the torrential storms, several holes on the Jones were under several feet of water requiring the third and fifth greens to be completely rebuilt. A damaged vehicle/pedestrian bridge on the Jones could not be repaired in time for the tournament. In its new form, the Champions Course will be a 6,846-yard, par 70 instead of the more familiar par 72 on the Jones Course.