After Lehman began the sudden death playoff on No. 18 with a solid shot down the fairway, Couples’ only bad tee shot of the tournament veered left into the shrubs, forcing him to take a drop.
Frost’s tee shot ended up in the left bunker and he pulled his second shot left of the gallery. He cleared out dozens of pine cones in between him and the green before striking his ball, which was nestled in a shrub, across the green.
Lehman’s first individual Champions Tour triumph – he teamed with Bernhard Langer to win the 2009 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf – was worth $360,000.
Since turning the requisite 50 years old in October, Couples has energized the Champions Tour, winning half of the six events he entered before coming to Colorado, where the thin air favored his strong drives – but not in sudden death.
After congratulating Lehman, Couples put his head down and stormed toward the clubhouse, where he quickly grabbed a couple of irons out of his locker and bolted for the parking lot.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” was all Couples had to say as he hustled to a waiting car.
Behind back-to-back eagles on Nos. 15 and 16, Couples had a chance to win this tournament outright in regulation but his eight-foot putt for birdie on 18 missed by an inch. Just as he was putting, a wind gust of about 25 mph came, but he didn’t back away.
His tap-in left him with a 69 and in a tie with Frost (67) and Tom Lehman (71), who joined the playoff at 7 under par by sinking a 4 1/2 -foot putt on 18 in only a slight breeze.
Frost simply ran out of miracles on the 73rd hole.
He was tied for 45th at 5 over par after 36 holes – a dozen shots Couples, who led at the halfway mark – before shooting 65-67 over the weekend.
Frost said he didn’t have to go back too far for inspiration when he was sitting 12 shots back Friday night: “I was thinking Tim Clark,” he said.
Trailing by seven shots going into the weekend, Clark set a TPC Sawgrass record with the largest 36-hole comeback to win The Players Championship three weeks ago.
Lehman began the day as the co-leader with Jay Don Blake, whose eagle on No. 7 gave him a two-shot lead that lasted but a few precious minutes.
Blake, whose winless streak was extended to 396 starts, sauntered onto the eighth hole, took a couple of practice swings free and easy with his 4-iron – and promptly topped his tee shot 30 yards into the bushes.
“I just totally shanked one, shanked it right into a ditch,” Blake said. “From then on, I felt like I couldn’t really be at ease at hitting some good iron shots. I was pretty cautious all day. That kind of put me in a bad frame of mind.”
After taking the penalty and carding a double-bogey, both Blake’s game and dreams of winning for the first time since 1991 began to unravel.
“It gets in your head,” said Blake, who finished with a 76, tied for eighth place at 2 under for the tournament. “Every situation you come up, you don’t know if it’s going to happen again.”
Mark O’Meara (71) finished two shots behind the trio in the playoff and Nick Price (70) finished three strokes off the pace.
It was cooler and calmer Sunday at the picturesque Colorado Golf Club, but the pin placements were the toughest yet. The ever-shifting winds added to the adversity the golfers faced at the 3-year-old course co-designed by Ben Crenshaw, rendering them unable to play the same way from round to round.
The course got high marks from the field for its difficulty and complexity, which forced the golfers to think their way around the 7,464-foot monster that has a high elevation of 6,200 feet and cuts through open meadows, wooded hillsides and streams while playing to a par-72.
Crenshaw said he might tweak the eighth hole, which drew some complaints, and wants to fatten the fairways for any future majors.