SONOMA, Calif. – Loren Roberts doesn’t have much ground to give as he closes in on his second Champions Tour championship in three years. He does have history on his side.
Roberts holds a 165-point lead over Fred Funk heading into this week’s Charles Schwab Cup Championship, though – with points being doubled for the final event of the season – Bernhard Langer and 2008 champion Jay Haas are also within range.
Yet the 54-year-old Roberts can take comfort knowing that only once in the previous eight years has the leader heading into the final tournament lost the points lead.
“It’s nice to come in here with a lead but it’s not safe,” said Roberts, who won the Tour title in 2007. “I haven’t shown good form the last two weeks so I’ll have to take it up a notch, raise my game up a level. I will probably look at the (leader board) more than usual.”
Roberts is second on the tour with three wins this season but finished tied for 22nd at last week’s AT&T Championship after placing 26th at the Administaff Small Business Classic before that.
The 54-year-old Roberts leads in points despite taking an entire month off this summer. Upon returning, he ran off seven straight Top 10 finishes, including a win at the Senior Open Championship in July, to move past Bernhard Langer, who led the points race for the first six months of the season.
“The break in the middle of the season really recharged my batteries,” Roberts said. “I hadn’t done that in 28 years, and I really credit that for my success the last half of the season.”
Roberts has 2,458 points while Funk is in second with 2,293 followed by Langer (2,110) and Haas (1,856).
Langer leads the Tour with four wins. He also has placed in the Top 10 in 14 of 19 tournaments this season but struggled in August when Roberts passed him for the points lead.
“The bottom line is we still have four rounds of golf to play,” said Langer, who shot a 7-under 65 during Wednesday’s Pro-Am. “You have to do the business first and try to win the tournament, then the rest will happen. I don’t think you want to be out there thinking about it constantly every shot. You just have to play the course.”
The 72-hole event is being played at the Sonoma Golf Course for the last time in seven years. The Schwab Cup Championship moves to San Francisco’s Harding Park, site of this year’s President’s Cup, for 2010 and 2011.
Points are doubled for the year-end tournament, with the winner receiving 884 points. Only Funk, Langer and Haas are within 900 points of Roberts.
Haas won the 2008 tournament by just 12 points over Funk in the closest race in the eight-year history of the Cup race.
The only time someone has rallied to win the points race in the final tournament was in 2005 when Tom Watson finished first to edge past Dana Quigley for the overall title.
The field for this week’s tournament was narrowed to 29 players after Tom Lehman withdrew Wednesday due to a family emergency. The nature of the emergency was not disclosed.
Lehman was 22nd on the money list to qualify for the tournament. Because he withdrew, the winner of this year’s tournament will receive 884 points and $442,000, meaning four players will have a chance to claim the $1 million annuity for winning the Charles Schwab Cup competition.