By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
VIDEO INTERVIEW: Lehman's pre-event press conference
Tom Lehman has always enjoyed coming to Fort Worth and playing in the tournament that is now known as the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
The 52-year-old Lehman won the event in 1995 and his last top-10 came as recently as 2007 when he tied for seventh. He returns this week with three Champions Tour victories under his belt -- and the lead in both the Charles Schwab Cup and money list.
"I always love playing here," Lehman said. "It's such a great old golf course. I don't feel like it benefits anybody other than those that could hit the right shots and can have a great putter.
"You don't need to hit super long. You need to be pretty straight. You need to be a good iron player and you need to be a good putter. If you can do that this week, no matter how old you are, you are going to have a good week."
Lehman might as well be describing himself on the Champions Tour this year.
He ranks fourth in total driving -- hitting more than 74 percent of his fairways -- and first in greens in regulation at 80 percent. He's second in birdie average and 13th in putting average.
"I haven't changed a thing," Lehman said when asked to quantify his success this year. "I haven't really changed anything in my swing since I was about 18. I think that's part of the reason why I'm playing well, consistently well is that my swing is really kind of simple and it's repetitive.
"I'm not trying to hit heroic shots. I'm just trying to play to my strengths, which means to me, when a pin isn't very accessible from my draw, I don't try to force it in there. I'm happy with a par and move on. I haven't really felt like I've changed my game at all. Maybe a little smarter as I get older."
Lehman has another reason to have a comfort zone in Fort Worth, too. His two daughters, are in summer school at Texas Christian, which happens to be within walking distance of Colonial.
Lehman said his daughters like the state of Texas' "independent spirit” and wanted to go to a college with a big-time football program. The Horned Frogs, who won the Rose Bowl last year, fit the bill.
"They've threatened that they are never going to come back to Arizona, and I kind of believe them," Lehman said. "They are pretty much hooked."
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Cold? Thursday wasn't cold. At least not the way Tom Lehman, who grew up in Minnesota, saw it.
"One time in high school a kid broke his hand but didn't know it until the ride home because his hands were numb all day," Lehman recalled. "That's cold. Today wasn't there."
Maybe so, but the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open began with a four-hour frost delay and the temperature Thursday never topped 46 degrees. Still, the 51-year-old Lehman managed to fire a 65 that left him tied with Bill Haas, Tom Gillis and Jason Bohn for the lead.
Everyone who played in the "morning" wave was able to complete his round. The farthest anyone got in the afternoon half of the draw was nine holes and the final threesomes to tee off had played just two when play was suspended at 6:02 p.m. local (8:02 ET).
Mindful of a similar situation on Friday morning after overnight temperatures that are expected to dip into the mid-20s, tournament officials opted to resume the first round at 10:30 a.m. MT (12:30 p.m. ET). That’s nearly three hours later than Thursday’s first tee times.
Once the first round has been completed, the second round will resume as quickly as possible so there will be a very short turnaround for some players. And the possibility exists that some of the players who managed to complete the first round on Thursday might not play at all on Friday. Particularly if Mother Nature intervenes again.
"It's going to be unique," Lehman said. "If there's any kind of a delay tomorrow, I would have to bet that we're not going to play tomorrow. I just don't see how it could possibly happen. You never know, but the odds are against us so it's kind of strange to have a big gap in the middle of a tournament like that.
"So you have to kind of find a way to stay in the rhythm of the tournament I suppose, maybe come back down for a few hours and practice, maybe go play nine holes somewhere else. But it's unique. But of course this weather is unique. This is really unheard of to be clear and this cold for two straight days like this." -- Helen Ross
Tom Lehman is likely playing one of his last few events on the PGA TOUR this week. Unlike his fellow 50-something Tom Pernice Jr., who’s made it clear he wants to play on TOUR as long as he' can, Lehman said Friday he’s pretty committed to sticking mostly to the Champions Tour next year.
“There's a bunch of factors that go into it, but at the end of the day I feel a bit of a responsibility to support that Tour,” said the 51-year-old Lehman, who is 7 under through two rounds here. “I enjoy it out there. I really like the guys out there. The competition is good. The window, I think, out there to really be successful is guys in their early to mid-50s, so I think this is a good time to be playing out there.
“I really do think that at the end of the day you have to be committed one way or the other. I've played two years where I've kind of split my time, and I've played well, but I think I need to be kind of all in or not.”
This wasn’t an easy decision for Lehman, however, who said he still feels he can compete on TOUR.
“You know, there's a time when it's all about trying to make the top 30 or the top 10 or No. 1 or Ryder Cup teams, and I'm not at that point,” Lehman said. “When I play out here, it's simply because I enjoy it.”
Lehman added that he also doesn’t have a problem with Pernice or fellow Champions Tour Michael Allen spending as much time on TOUR as they do.
“That's the same mindset that I had for a long time,” Lehman said. “If I was 100 percent healthy, maybe I would think differently as well, but I've got my aches and pains and issues, and so I'm playing nearly on one leg. I have been for a while. So it would be tough for me to feel like I can get out here and compete at the highest level physically.” -- Brian Wacker
Mark Calcavecchia isn’t the only 50-year-old in contention at St. Andrews right now. Tom Lehman, who won this tournament in 1996 and tied for fourth in 2000 here at St. Andrews, is 5 under for the week and in the top 10 (for now) after a 68 earlier.
Should Calcavecchia or Lehman go on to win, either one of them
would become golf’s oldest winner of a mjaor championship.
Here is a look at the 10 oldest major winners:
Julius Boros: 48 years, 4 months, 18 days 1968 PGA
Tom Morris Sr.: 46 years, 3 months, 9 days 1867 Open Championship
Jack Nicklaus: 46 years, 2 months, 23 days 1986 Masters
Jerry Barber: 45 years, 3 months, 6 days 1961 PGA Championship
Hale Irwin: 45 years, 15 days 1990 U.S. Open
Lee Trevino: 44 years, 8 months, 18 days 1984 PGA Championship
Roberto de Vicenzo: 44 years, 3 months, 3 days 1967 Open Championship
Raymond Floyd: 43 years, 9 months, 11 days 1986 U.S. Open
Ted Ray: 43 years, 4 months, 16 days 1920 U.S. Open
Julius Boros: 43 years, 3 months, 20 days 1963 U.S. Open
The way Tom Lehman saw it, those with early tee times on Friday like himself got the better end of the draw in the second round. Not so much that the wind wasn’t blustery, which could be the case in the afternoon, but due to its direction.
“We went out with the wind helping for the first six or seven holes,” Lehman explained. “Then it laid down a bit, then it switched directions and from 12 onward there was a right-to-left wind helping, which makes it way, way easier than the one that comes in your face.”
The 51-year-old Lehman, who won the 1996 British Open at a bone-dry Royal Lytham & St. Annes, took advantage of the conditions in shooting a 68. He’s 5 under for the tournament, which is currently in the top 10, and seven strokes behind Louis Oosthuizen.
“Whatever you get, you get and the guy who deals with it and has the best attitude to the conditions and just muddles through is the guy who does the best,” Lehman said. “Today it’s not impossible. It’s difficult and I had a really good attitude and took what was coming my way and made a few putts.” – Helen Ross
The Senior British Open will be played next week at Carnoustie, and judging from early results at St. Andrews, Mark O’Meara would have to be among the favorites.
O’Meara made five birdies and two bogeys on the way to a 69 that left him the low Champions Tour player at the British Open. Mark Calcavecchia fired a 70 while Tom Lehman had a 71, Nick Faldo and Tom Pernice Jr. shot 72s and Loren Roberts, Peter Senior and Tom Watson each had a 73.
Jason Gore birdied his final hole on Sunday to finish off a round of 73 and make the cut at the 110th U.S. Open.
The only thing cooler would have been if that birdie had come on the 18th hole rather than the ninth. The affable man from Southern California and his wife Megan were married several years ago in a ceremony on Pebble Beach’s signature hole.
Gore was one of the lucky 83 who survived the cut which came at 7 over. A total of 25 players were tied on the magic number which is 10 strokes off the pace being set by Graeme McDowell.
Y.E. Yang was among those who weren’t so lucky. He was 1 over for the tournament through 27 holes but made five bogeys, two triple bogeys and a double bogey on the way to a closing 49.
Miguel Angel Jimenez, who tied for second, 15 strokes behind Tiger Woods when he won the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, was also among those making an early exit. Former Masters champ Trevor Immelman also fell one shot shy, as did the 2006 U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy and Adam Scott, who still improved by eight and four shots, respectively, in the second round.
Rory McIlroy, who won his first PGA TOUR event last month at the Quail Hollow Championship, didn’t give himself a shot – shooting 10 over. Ben Crane, who won in San Diego earlier this year and had finished 12th or better in his last four starts, also missed the cut.
Champions Tour vets Tom Lehman and David Frost were among the other early departures. Lehman had beaten Frost and Fred Couples in the Senior PGA Championship two weeks ago. – Helen Ross
He won his first of two U.S. Open titles when he was just 24. And on Friday, after he shot 3 under in the second round of his 18th U.S. Open, Ernie Els couldn't help but smile at the memory of that playoff win at Oakmont.
"I must have been out of my head to think that I could have won at 24," he said.
Els is fast approaching his 41st birthday in October, and he knows the window of opportunity to add to his three career majors is dwindling. But the big South African has already won twice in 2010, he leads the FedExCup standings and he'll start the third round at Pebble Beach just two strokes off the lead.
So surely another title run isn't out of the question.
"I feel good," the two-time U.S. Open champ acknowledged. "I feel my game's there. I'd like to think I've got quite a few more left."
Els matched the leader, Graeme McDowell, for the low round of the day -- and the tournament to date – with Friday’s 68. He's driving the ball extremely well, hitting all but five fairways in the first two rounds, and has found 24 of 36 greens in regulation.
An early morning date with Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood on Friday enabled Els to take advantage of optimum scoring conditions. His putter was particularly cooperative on the poa annua greens that had yet to see the kind of traffic they had when Els struggled a bit on Friday afternoon. He needed just 25 putts, compared with 33 in the first round.
"You get a bit more tense when you feel that some aspects of your game aren't quite there," said Els, who worked on his ball position and aim Thursday night to remedy the situation. "You might get a little flustered. Yesterday I felt uncomfortable on the greens. You don't want to feel like that in a U.S. Open. You want to feel like you're going to hole some putts. When something is not quite there, obviously, we all are human beings, and you're going to feel a little tension.
"I feel my game is very good this week, for some reason. So the last two days I felt a bit more calm. I've played this event where I've been very tense and other times I've been quite calm. And all I can say is that the times that I've been tense my game wasn't quite there. And there's so much trouble that you've got to stop thinking about it. This week I'm feeling all right."
Els has felt that way for most of the year, actually. He broke a two-year victory drought when he won the World Golf Championships-CA Championship and followed up with a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard in his next start.
The Big Easy then honored his commitment to play in the Shell Houston Open, where he tied for 44th and finished 18th at the Masters. A tie for third at the Valero Texas Open was sandwiched between two missed cuts, including in his last start at the Memorial Tournament.
"So I think I've been a little over-golfed, to be honest," said Els, who spent part of last week playing golf in Florida with his father. "It's given me a bit more time to get some energy and work a little on my game the last week and I feel a little bit better now. But I like this time of the year."
And why not? In addition to his two U.S. Open wins, Els also won the 2002 British Open. And lest we forget, he was tied for first in the 'B' Flight at Pebble Beach in 2000, finishing as the runner-up, 15 strokes behind Tiger Woods in that epic win.
Els has played in 71 majors and posted 28 top-10 finishes -- seven of which have come at the U.S. Open. He trailed Colin Montgomerie by four at the midway point of the 1994 Open and Tom Lehman by one in 1997 and went on to win.
"It's been such a long time since I won one of these," Els said. "But we've got a long way to go. Obviously, I needed a round like today to get me back in the tournament, which is nice. We've just got to look at conditions. I feel comfortable with my game, you know. I worked really hard coming in here. So I feel my game's there, which is nice, because you need your game around a U.S. Open venue.
"Are the wins going to help? Sure it will help. It's been so long, I've been in all kinds of situations. But there are a lot of guys hungry for a win, so it's not just me going for a win. So there's still a lot of golf to be played you've just got to plug along and see what happens on the back nine on Sunday." -- Helen Ross