Lehman's diligence pays off in season-long race

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Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
Tom Lehman won the Charles Schwab Cup on Sunday after leading for much of the season.
November 06, 2011
John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM Site Producer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tom Lehman's Schwab Cup due diligence came throughout the Champions Tour season. In Boca Raton, Fla, Mississippi, Alabama. Then Minnesota, New York, Texas.

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As it turned out, he needed a little help in the end from friends in California.

Lehman, the points leader in the season-long race since the year's second event, finished just tied for 18th at the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, leaving the door open for Mark Calcavecchia.

Calcavecchia could have taken the Cup with a win or a two-way tie for second, and the latter possibility was very much alive Sunday afternoon.

Jay Don Blake was on his way to winning the event by two shots, but Calcavecchia and four other players were in the picture for runner-up.

Calcavecchia posted 6 under, shooting 2 under 69 though failing to birdie the 18th from just 134 yards out, which he later regretted.

Then one by one, Loren Roberts (whose wife introduced Lehman to his wife, Melissa), Michael Allen and Jay Haas all also posted 6 under, clinching the Cup for Lehman.

"I'm glad I could help. Maybe he'll fly me home," said Allen, a fellow Scottsdale, Ariz., resident.

The amazing confluence of events wasn't lost on Lehman.

"Things kind of just changed and changed and changed and at the end it worked out in my favor," Lehman said. "Pretty down to the wire."

He would know about such suspense. In 1996, he won THE TOUR Championship to take the money title and Player of the Year honors at the very end of the year.

"Looked like Calc had a great chance of doing it here, of taking it all in one fell swoop at the end. He played great. Really, really impressed with the way he played and the way he battled."

In reviewing the 2011 season, the same will be said for Lehman. He won three times, first at the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, handing him the points lead in the year's second event. He would never relinquish it.

He strengthened his hold on the points with wins at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic and a major title at the Regions Tradition, then added five more top-5 finishes in seven events leading up to the season finale at TPC Harding Park.

"Level of consistency is what won," said John Cook, who also won three times during the season but finished fifth in points. "He had tons of top 10s and wins and winning majors, and that's what you have to do."

Lehman, who also secured the Arnold Palmer Award as the Tour's leading money winner with $2,081,526, is all but assured to win Player of the Year honors, which will give him another unique distinction. He'd be the first to win POY on the Nationwide Tour (Hogan Tour when he played), PGA TOUR and Champions Tour.

Always understated, Lehman notes that an asterisk should go with that award since he's one of the first generation of players to have a chance to do that, given he was 31 when he played the Hogan Tour.

But there's no asterisk next to a Schwab Cup, which puts him next to Bernhard Langer, Roberts, Haas and Hale Irwin, to name a few, as the Champions Tour's greatest players.

The fact that it took a little help from friends on the last day just makes for a better story.

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