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January 11 2013

9:54 PM

Champions get early start at Sony Open

By Ann Miller, for PGATOUR.COM

HONOLULU -- Hawaii is home to the start of the Champions Tour as well and next week 40 seniors will tee it up in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, on the Big Island.

Two will have a head start.

Russ Cochran qualified for this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii, shooting 67 in 40-mph gusts at Turtle Bay Monday. An 8-foot eagle putt on his final hole Friday gave him a second straight 68 and leaves him at 4-under 136 going into the weekend.

Fred Funk, who won Mitsubishi in 2008, was on the bubble Friday afternoon after an opening round 70. He was fourth on the Champions money list last year after winning two events.

Bart Bryant, who just turned 50 and will make his Champions debut later this year, is also playing at Waialae Country Club this week. After shooting 67 Friday he goes into the weekend a shot ahead of Cochran.

Cochran came to Hawaii to visit a friend on Kauai and made a last-minute decision to try the qualifier. While “missing my own vacation,” he made the turn in 4 under Thursday, but admits to backing off a bit since.

“It’s a big deal for me to make the cut,” said Cochran, who has won three senior titles since turning 50. “If you make the cut you go on a list and the tournaments that don’t fill up like Puerto Rico you have a chance to get in. It’s a nice thing, but it made me play very tentatively.

“At the same time, it kept me hitting the ball to the right side of the hole and I got the ball in the hole well. I didn’t play particularly well yesterday or most of today, but I hung in there.”

Two years ago he opened with a career-best, 10-under-par 62 at Hualalai. After this week, he should be ready to go low again.

“I know if nothing else standing over these putts and getting the feel of walking the course and hitting shots and working it in the wind is a big deal,” Cochran said.

Cochran’s son Ryan, who played at Florida, is on his bag this week. His youngest son Case is now at Texas A&M. Dad keeps seeing familiar faces at
Waialae this week, while he works on coming back from an injury-interrupted 2012.

“The odd thing about this is two or three of the guys out here this week are guys my sons played with,” Cochran said. “There are lot of guys out here I saw playing junior golf. It’s really interesting, really fun to see the progress.”

Winners from the last two years are eligible for Mitsubishi, along with major champions from the past five years and eight exemptions.

Those exemptions went to Ben Crenshaw, Steve Elkington, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Larry Nelson, Craig Stadler, Cutis Strange and Jim Thorpe.

Along with Funk and Cochran, other qualifiers include 2012 Player of the Year Tom Lehman, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, Fred Couples, who led the Champions Tour in scoring average, Bernhard Langer, who led the money list, and defending champion Dan Forsman.

Mitsubishi starts the 2013 Champions Tour season next Friday.

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