Lehman warming up to The Woodlands, leading after 36

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Tom Lehman is in search of his sixth Champions Tour victory this week.
May 05, 2012
Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- Tom Lehman swore he was done with this course.

Didn't like it. Couldn't play it. Wasn't coming back. Ever.


The year was 1989 and he finished nearly dead last in Q-School held here at The Woodlands CC. Bad weather. Bad shots. Rain. Cold. Nothing good, except a conditional card on the newly formed Ben Hogan Tour.

Kept his promise, too. Didn't come back.

Until he turned 50.

Lehman shook his head. "What was I thinking?"

The course he psyched himself out on back in '89 has been nothing but good to him these last few years as a fiftysomething. A T-4 as a rookie in 2009, a T-9 in 2010, another T-4 in 2011.

And now? With 18 holes left, Lehman is poised to jumpstart his 2012 season. Of course, so is Fred Funk, who shares the second-round lead at the Insperity Championship with him at 9-under 135.

Last year's Player of the Year and Charles Schwab Cup champ has gotten off to a decent start this year, but that's about it. He won three times by this point last year and now, he's got just one individual top 10.

"I haven't played poorly,'' he said, ''but I haven't played great. ... There hasn't been much happening.''

Until now. Lehman opened with a 65 and followed it with a 70. It could have been lower, in fact, he got to 10-under for the tournament with a birdie at the 10th -- 8-iron to 2 feet -- but couldn't hang on. He bogeyed the 14th and 16th coming in and failed to birdie the par-5 15th, but got one back with a 6-foot birdie at the 17th to grab a share of the lead.

"I played really good for about 13 holes,'' Lehman said. "I struggled a bit on the last four or five. Seventy isn't a bad score. It's under par.''

Just a few higher than he'd like. After he lost the lead with the bogey at 11, Mike Goodes stepped up and held on until a double at the 18th left him tied with Brad Bryant, a shot behind Lehman and Funk going into Sunday. And if that's not tight enough for you, two-time 2012 winner Michael Allen and Bobby Clampett are at 7-under.

"It's going to be a bit of a free-for-all tomorrow,'' Lehman said. "Someone's going to have to go low tomorrow to win.''

And it might as well be . . . well, him. He chuckled.

The course he hated when he was 30 is a chess game to him at 53. In Friday's opening round, he stepped to 18 with a chance to shoot a 28 or 29 on the back nine, but didn't. Instead, his tee shot went left and nicked a tree. An approach and bunker shot later, he missed a 6-footer for par. The pairing was great -- Corey Pavin and Curtis Strange -- as was the weather.

"The course is in great shape,'' he said. "It was really there for the taking.''

It was a little tougher Saturday with a breeze, but it was still a day to go lower than the 70 he shot.

"There are a lot of birdie holes out here where you can shoot low scores, but there are some holes where you can get into trouble, too,'' Lehman said. "There are a lot of opportunities out there, but you have to take advantage of them. Someone's going to do it (tomorrow) and you want it to be you.''

Lehman hasn't felt he's in top shape, so he's been hitting the gym more often to strengthen his legs and stop his knees from aching. "That's important for me,'' he said. "My legs are a big part of my swing.''

He was the model of consistency last season, becoming the first -- and likely only player ever -- to win Player of the Year honors on the Hogan Tour (now Nationwide), the PGA TOUR and the Champions Tour. This year, his best finish is a T3 at the Ace Group Classic. But it's early.

A win here and . . .things could take off. Again.

But Saturday afternoon, all Lehman wanted to do was grab something to drink and be a fan. So he headed out to watch Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player finish up in the Greats of Golf Challenge.

They were playing three groups behind him, so Lehman never even got to say hello before everyone teed off.

"We don't get the opportunity to see them very often,'' he said.

You have to take advantage. Just like he's finally doing at the course he used to love to hate.