By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAN FRANCISCO – A year ago, Jay Don Blake was watching the Charles Schwab Cup Championship from his couch with a Diet Coke and a doughnut. He wasn’t eligible to compete.
This year, he’s not only eligible, he’s in the driver’s seat to possibly win.
Blake shot a 5-under 66 at TPC Harding Park Saturday in Round 3 to take over the top spot on the leaderboard, two shots clear of local favorite Michael Allen, David Frost and Jay Haas.
His round included five birdies and no bogeys.
“Just kind of what you want to do around here is try to eliminate the big mistakes. I did that pretty well,” Blake said.
A win Sunday would be the biggest of Blake’s career, and on the Champions Tour would lift him into another stratosphere of players – multiple-event winners. Not bad for a player who two months ago wasn’t even fully exempt on Tour.
Blake has held the journeyman’s label his entire career, winning just once on the PGA TOUR, at the 1991 Shearson Lehman Brothers Open at Torrey Pines. He was a regular on Tour from 1987 to 2004, then walked away well before age 50 due to persistent back pain.
“I couldn’t practice like I wanted to or perform like I felt like I should be able to,” said Blake, a Utah native. “I thought, I’ve got to back away, try to analyze my life, see what I’ve got going on. I finally decided to just get some help and get it taken care of.”
Blake never had back surgery, but spent three years stretching and manipulating his back and pelvic area into shape. He then gave it a go on the 50-and-over circuit, and had to fight and scratch for his place on Tour.
He finished eighth at the 2008 q-school, which made him conditionally exempt. He played 12 events in 2009 including three off open qualifiers, with a best finish of T4 at the Regions Charity Classic, at which he had a sponsor’s exemption.
In 2010 he played 15 events, four off qualifiers, and earned temporary exempt status from the reshuffle along the way. He had a third-place finish at the Senior Open Championship and finished 34th on the money list.
That still didn’t earn him a fully exempt spot on Tour. He sat in a golf cart on the first tee at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf as a first alternate, and also missed the Toshiba Classic and U.S. Senior Open. All the while though he was playing well, losing in a playoff to John Cook at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am and piling up top-10s.
Finally, at the Songdo IBD Championship in mid-September, he won.
“It’s given me quite a bit of confidence, knowing that I feel like I belong and I can win out here,” Blake said. “I feel like I got to work hard to do that. It’s nice to have that win and then see if you can add to that.”
He’ll see on Sunday, playing in the final group with Jay Haas.
SAN FRANCISCO – Jay Don Blake, winless on the Champions Tour coming into this season, now has a chance for a second win in less than two months at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
Blake, who won in a playoff at the Songdo IBD Championship, leads by two shots (8 under) at TPC Harding Park after a 5-under 66 in the third round. Michael Allen, David Frost and Jay Haas are two shots back at 6 under, and Loren Roberts is 5 under after the week’s low round (65).
Fred Couples, who co-led with Allen and Frost after two rounds, had two double bogeys on the back nine and shot 74, falling into a tie for 12th at 1 under. Playing partner Mark Calcavecchia shot 70 and is 4 under, needing to finish first or second to have a shot at the Schwab Cup.
Tom Lehman, the Schwab Cup points leader, shot 72 and is tied for 16th. He still projects to win the Cup based on the leaderboard through three rounds.
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAN FRANCISCO – Tom Lehman is still projected to win the Schwab Cup, but Round 2 of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship showed it won’t be a walkover.
Mark Calcavecchia shot 68 at TPC Harding Park, tied for the low round of the day, to climb into a tie for fourth at 3 under behind Michael Allen, Fred Couples, David Frost.
Calcavecchia is second in Schwab Cup points and needs a combination of a win and a Lehman T2 or worse, or a runner-up with Lehman at T12 or worse.
Lehman is tied for 11th after a second-round 72. Calcavecchia said he’s not noticing – yet.
“He’s hanging around. He’ll be there at the end,” Calcavecchia said. “I’m not going to pay attention to him or David Frost or anybody else. There’s two rounds left. We’ll see what happens with the weather.”
Calcavecchia’s first two rounds have been an adventure. Thursday he shot a 71 that he said could have been a 75 or 76, were it not for a good putter. Friday’s 68, which included a holeout eagle, he said could have been a 65 had that same putter returned.
Friday he put a new Ping G20 driver in his bag, overnighted from the company after the first round. On the 10th tee Thursday he hit a bizarre drive that was heading deep into the parking lot before hitting a tree.
“I thought the head was loose, but it’s probably my head that’s loose,” Calcavecchia said to laughter in the media center. “Threw a new one in the bag and drove it great.”
The other three players who came into the week mathematically eligible to take the Schwab Cup with a win don’t appear likely to pull it off. Peter Senior (third in points) is tied for 24th at 5 over, John Cook (fourth) is tied for 21st at 4 over and Russ Cochran (fifth) is tied for 14th at 1 over.
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAN FRANCISCO – Fred Couples got off to an inauspicious start for a leader in Round 2 of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, promptly making double bogey on his first hole at TPC Harding Park.
But he hung around with a string pars until the 10th hole, where he made birdie, then added two more later on the back nine for a 1-under 70, enough to claim a share of the lead with Michael Allen and David Frost.
Friday was a nicer day that perhaps should have seen more low scores (Thursday and Friday’s low rounds were 68s, the first rounds in three years on the Champions Tour where the low round was that high), but Couples noted that Harding Park is no pushover.
“They moved a couple tees up, but still kept most of them back,” Couples said. “Everyone knows it’s cold. But it’s just a tough, tough course. I’m not dissatisfied shooting 1 under today at all.”
On the first hole he pushed a drive into the right rough, leaving tree limbs to contend with for his approach. He left that short in a bunker, blasted out 30 feet past the hole and three-putted. But on the back side he birdied the par-5 10th, hit a wedge to eight feet and made the putt on 15 and drove the ball pin-high on the par-4 16th, which had its tees moved up.
Two weeks ago on the Champions Tour, Couples posted 23 under at the AT&T Championship, winning by seven shots. With two rounds to go here, three are tied for the lead and and 10 are within four shots.
“It’s logjammed up there. Even if you don’t shoot a bad round tomorrow, someone shoots 68, you shoot well, you have a shot,” Couples said. “There are rounds out there where you can shoot 65 or 66 on this course. No one has done it yet because the first two days were pretty tough.”
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAN FRANCISCO – Remember Bernhard Langer?
OK, that’s a little overdramatic considering he’s the defending Schwab Cup champion. But this season hasn’t been anything like his usual on the Champions Tour, due to a run of injuries.
Langer’s hoping to end it on an upswing, however, sitting at 3 under in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship after a round of 68 Friday. He’s one shot behind co-leaders Michael Allen, Fred Couples and David Frost.
A win in the season finale would actually be his second of the year, but his February win at the ACE Group Classic may as well be many years ago.
“Sure seems that way,” Langer said. “Last three years, I was winning a regular basis, every four, five, six events. It’s been a tough year health-wise.”
Not long after that win he had surgery on his left thumb, injured in a freak bicycle accident. He missed four months, more than what he was led to believe.
“The surgeon made it sound pretty simple: ‘We can take care of that, you’ll be back on Tour in eight weeks,’” Langer said. “It was healed after eight weeks, but then I developed arthritis in those two joints. It’s been an uphill battle ever since.”
He also had fluid drained from his left knee after the British Open and has battled left ankle problems.
Langer had two top-10s in Champions Tour majors over the summer, but hasn’t had a top-5 since the February win. He came to TPC Harding Park 22nd in points, far from being able to defend his Schwab Cup.
But his game is returning, evidenced by Friday’s 68. He missed just two fairways and took 25 putts for the round, the best in the 30-man field
“I feel like I’m now not scared,” Langer said. “I know (the thumb’s) going to hurt on certain shots, but I’m going after the ball. I just take the pain, it goes away after 10 seconds. Not like a toothache that’s constant.”
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAN FRANCISCO – When Michael Allen plays TPC Harding Park, the memories of youth come flowing back.
Coincidentally or not, so does great golf.
The San Mateo, Calif., native shot 2 under in Round 1 of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, one shot back of Fred Couples and Jay Haas.
He had a small but vocal fan contingent following him on the cold and windy day, all while remembering good times around the famed muni.
“Like the city tournament we used to come out here … I remember the time I was actually a medalist,” said Allen, who grew up a few miles down the road from Harding Park. “I think we had 13 or 14 temporary greens. Just a mud bowl and it rained the whole way.”
Of course, Harding Park is considerably nicer today, and on the new incarnation Allen has good memories too. Last year he shot 61 in the third round of the season finale, the course record by three shots. He didn’t win the tournament, shooting 70 on Sunday to John Cook’s 67, but doesn’t appear convincing when he claims to be upset about that outcome.
“You know, the thing is, when I come to this area and play, I just enjoy the golf here. I grew up with it. I love seeing the trees and the color of the grass,” Allen said.
That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t want to take a trophy home Sunday afternoon. The 52-year-old won his first Champions Tour start in 2009, the Senior PGA Championship, but hasn’t won since. This year he finished in the top-10 in half of his 18 starts, but didn’t finish higher than third.
“It’s been a frustrating year in a way, that I haven’t won. I’ve had some good opportunities,” Allen said. “I’d like to get a win before the end of the year, for sure.”
At TPC Harding Park, it would just be another entry into Allen’s memory bank.
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAN FRANCISCO – To get a sense of how different Round 1 was in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship compared to a glorious two days of practice and pro-am, Jay Haas offers two versions of the par-4 14th at TPC Harding Park.
In great weather Wednesday, he had 168 yards to the green. A 7-iron.
In the cold, windy, drizzly Thursday, off what he called a “smashed” drive, he had 221 in. A 17-degree hybrid shot.
Then again, Haas knocked the hybrid on the green (one of just a few to do so Thursday), a microcosm of his 3 under day in the opening round. The former Schwab Cup winner, who is still hearing congratulations from the gallery for son Bill’s FedExCup title, made four birdies with just one bogey on a day were just seven of the 30 players were under par. David Frost and Michael Allen are at 2 under.
“It was a very difficult day,” Haas said. “The last few days kind of teased us a little bit. Just the cool, the wind, the rain, makes this place pretty difficult.
“Ball just does not go very far out here, so we’re hitting one or two clubs more than maybe we would somewhere else where it would be above room temperature, I guess you would say.”
Fred Couples also shot 3-under 68 and will be paired tomorrow with his Presidents Cup assistant captain.
Couples, a winner in two of his last five starts on the Champions Tour including a seven-shot romp two weeks ago at the AT&T Championship, got to five under at the turn Thursday but had three bogeys coming in, offset by a birdie on No. 18.
“I have no problem with shooting a couple over on the back; it was nice to get off to that kind of start,” Couples said. “The most exciting thing is that I’ll be playing with Jay tomorrow. We haven’t played much this year and with what’s going on, we’ll have a good time out there.”
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Michael Allen's two daughters are teenagers now and they have all but outgrown Mickey Mouse. In fact, he's been a popular man this week at Disney since he's given all his theme park tickets away.
"They actually love it, but with school now, high school and all that," Allen said, his voice trailing off as he talked about his family.
Of course, they surely wouldn't mind returning to Disney for the 13th time next year if Allen were defending a title at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. And he will start the weekend just three strokes off the pace in his quest to win for the first time on the PGA TOUR.
Allen, who plays the bulk of his golf on the Champions Tour now, fired a 66 on the Palm Course to move to 9 under. The 52-year-old made seven birdies and two bogeys while hitting 17 greens on Friday.
"I mean, really I'm not doing anything phenomenal driving the ball well and I've been putting pretty well the last couple weeks," Allen said. "That's really coming around, so I'm getting a lot of confidence. I'm not really making a lot putts, but I'm not missing ones I should be making. Made a six-footer or two over the last few days to save some pars."
Allen, who won his first start on the Champions Tour at the
Senior PGA Championship, is one of four players in the field at
Disney who are over 50 -- and all four are likely to make the cut.
The other three are Tom Pernice Jr., who is 7 under, Mark
Calcavecchia (3 under) and Tom Lehman (3 under).
"Nice thing out there is when you play well you have a chance to compete and have a chance to win," Allen said. "So that in itself is a lot of fun. You know, we're not dead yet. We can still play. A lot of good players out there still, so it's been fun. It keeps you playing all the time, and it's a great time out there."
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – If you’re looking for an early favorite to win the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in two weeks at Harding Park don’t forget about Michael Allen.
He might rank 18th in the season-long race for the Schwab Cup, but Allen is certainly sharp this week at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. The 52-year-old is old enough to be the father of several of his closest competitors but golf is nothing if not a game for the ages.
Allen is 5 under through 12 holes on the Palm Course and he trails 22-year-old Bio Kim by one shot at 8 under for the tournament. Allen is tied for second with Brandt Jobe, Kevin Chappell, Kris Blanks and Derek Lamely.
Allen, who is playing in his fifth PGA TOUR event of the season, has nine top-10s in 18 starts on the Champions Tour. He has yet to win on the PGA TOUR but captured the Senior PGA Championship last year in his debut on the 50-and-over circuit.
Some guys are playing to keep their PGA TOUR card. Tom Pernice Jr. is playing to determine what Tour he’ll play on in 2011.
If the 51-year-old finishes in the top 125 on the money list – he’s currently 137th – he’ll spend most of his time on the TOUR. If not, it’s likely he’ll play more events on the over-50 circuit.
“Playing out of the 126 to 150 category you really don't know your schedule out here very much,” said Pernice, who opened with a 68 Thursday on the Palm Course. “I still got a chance to have a good week here and see if I can get up there and get ahead of the top 125 and if that's the case I'd like to play as much as I can out here.
“I feel like my game's good enough, and this is still where I want to play.”
The last two starts have been evidence of that -- Pernice tied for 18th at the Frys.com Open and tied for 15th at the McGladrey Classic.
Michael Allen is in a similar position, though he may be leaning toward the Champions Tour. Allen is 124th on the money list, but he opened with a 74 on the Palm Course.
“You know, a lot of guys on the Champions Tour kind of wonder because it's a lot of fun out there,” said Allen, who is coming off a runner-up finish at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. “And after the way I played today, I'm probably moving that way anyhow. It wasn't a very good day.”
Not having won in 360 starts, however, has kept Allen coming back.
“That’s the one thing I want to do,” Allen said. “I want to be able to finish my career and say I won, so I need more opportunities to do that. That's the main reason.” -- Brian Wacker