Insider: It's (mostly) Lehman vs. Calc in season finale

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Lehman has had a stranglehold on the season-long points race, but Calcavecchia still has a chance to catch him.
November 01, 2011
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

The focus will be on Tom Lehman and Mark Calcavecchia, but there's a wild card in the mix at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.


Lehman has been the season-long leader of the Champions Tour's Charles Schwab Cup race. Calcavecchia is No. 2 on the points list going into this week's finale at TPC Harding Park. If anybody is likely to catch Lehman, who has a healthy 382-point lead, it's Calcavecchia.

Looking at what those two have achieved this year and comparing their statistics reveals just how similar the seasons enjoyed by Lehman and Calcavecchia have been, with one glaring difference.

In 20 starts this year on the Champions Tour, Lehman has 12 top-10 finishes and is No. 2 in scoring average at 69.07. Calcavecchia has 14 top-10 finishes in 21 starts and his 69.02 scoring average is the best on the Champions Tour.

There is less than a yard difference in driving distance -- Calcavecchia has averaged 288.3 yards off the tee to Lehman's 287.6 yards. Lehman's strength is in driving accuracy -- 76.41 percent to 67.58 percent -- and he's No. 1 in greens in regulation at 77.88 percent. Calcavecchia enjoyed an advantage in putting average at 1.726 (ninth on the Champions Tour) to Lehman's 1.760 (T25).

History goes into Lehman's column. He tied for fifth at Harding Park last year while Calcavecchia finished T29 in the 30-man field. Amazingly, Calcavecchia hit 80 percent of the fairways at Harding Park last year, hit plenty of fairways (68 percent) but couldn't solve the greens, averaging nearly two putts a hole.

The difference between Lehman and Calcavecchia this season: Lehman has won three times, including a major at the Regions Tradition, to one victory for Calcavecchia.

Now to the wild card factor: Fred Couples.

Couples has enjoyed an excellent late-season surge after having his back treated in Germany in mid-summer. He's won twice in his last five starts, including the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship for his first Champions Tour major, and is coming off a victory at the AT&T Championship.

In that stretch, Couples has four top-10 finishes, missing only at the Boeing Classic where he finished T16 behind the winner, Calcavecchia.

There are four golfers with a mathematical chance of surpassing Lehman. They are Calcavecchia, Peter Senior, John Cook and Russ Cochran.

Couples isn't on the short list but he certainly is in position to have a dramatic impact on the outcome. For instance, if Couples -- or any other golfer in the field not among the top five -- wins and claims the double points -- 880 -- that would make it impossible for anyone to surpass Lehman.

In that case, the best Calcavecchia could do is finish second for 416 points and a 2,372 total. With Lehman getting the minimum 48 points for finishing 30th, his total, 2,386, would be enough to win.

Lehman knows exactly what he's facing at TPC Harding Park, where Cook will be aiming for a three-peat in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

"It's an excellent course for a season� ending championship," Lehman said. "You've got to drive the ball pretty well, you've got to putt well. Kind of demands a bit of everything, so I think it's a good place to finish.

"It's been a very good season for a lot of guys. You look at the cast of characters -- Calcavecchia has been playing great. Only won once, but he's just playing steady week after week. John Cook, especially the second half of the season, has been playing great. Couples is playing well. And I've been playing well.

"Everybody knows what they have to do. You just see who can go do it."

Lehman has the target on his back. It's been there since early in the season.

"I'm aware that I've had that yellow jersey since the second week," he said. "It would be nice to finish the last week with it, but a lot can happen in one week, especially a small field event, a big purse. I have to be prepared to play and be ready to give my best. My short game has to be sharp. I really feel confident that if I'm ready to play and my short game is sharp, I'll be just fine.

"I don't know that (Harding Park) necessarily favors a guy who hits it forever. I think a guy who hits it straight is going to always be in the game. There are some trees and some rough, so putting the ball in the fairway is going to be important. It's kind of an older style course. You got to drive it in the fairway in order to have a chance to score."

Steadiness has been Calcavecchia's calling card.

"I'm a Champions Tour player now and finally got my first win, so that's good," Calcavecchia said. "It was a good, consistent year. I didn't have many bad days, and that's good.

"I know that if I go out and win the thing, I've got a pretty good chance of winning (the $1 million bonus) so that's exciting."

To win, Calcavecchia will have to overcome Harding Park. He doesn't have history as an ally, but he's confident he can do that.

"It's not one of my favorites," he said. "I finished tied for dead last there last year, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. There are some other courses we've played this year that I did horrible at last year. I'm playing good. I'm hitting the ball good. I remember last year I had a tough time there putting. But for the most part, I've putted well this year. I'm looking forward to it."