KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii – Russ Cochran holed two eagles and six birdies in a career-best 10-under 62 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the Champions Tour’s season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship.
The 52-year-old left-hander, a two-time winner last season after going more than 400 starts without a victory, was near-perfect in his bogey-free round on a defenseless day at Hualalai to hold a two-stroke lead over defending champion Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw.
With son Ryan on the bag, Cochran missed just one green in regulation. After making the turn in 32, Cochran had two eagles and two birdies in the next six holes to shoot atop the leaderboard.
Cochran said what helped him was taking time away from golf a few years ago to “re-evaluate … get life in better order,” and “get focused on the right things.”
“I said when I get (back) out there, I’m going to do this a bit different,” he said. “I’m certainly enjoying the moment more.”
Bernhard Langer, the three-time defending player of the year and the 2009 champion, opened with a 65 to match Jeff Sluman and Mark McNulty. Tom Lehman, Mark O’Meara and John Cook shot 66s.
Cochran went 19 years, 2 months, 5 days between wins.
He finally hoisted a trophy last September in South Korea, and went on to win the next event in North Carolina. And he’s not willing to wait around to add to his collection.
His victories at the Posco E&C Songdo Championship and SAS Championship in consecutive starts in September were among his 11 top-10 finishes. He ended up fourth on the money list with nearly $1.8 million.
The Kentucky native’s lone PGA Tour victory was at the 1991 Western Open.
“There’s a certain part of you that says, ‘I felt like I didn’t win enough and didn’t play well enough in my career on tour,”’ Cochran said. “And if I get that opportunity again, I’m certainly going to dig in and play as hard as I can.
“That’s all it is. There’s no big secrets or anything.”
Cochran’s 6-foot birdie putt on No. 15 gave him a two-stroke lead over the Hall of Fame duo Watson and Crenshaw. Cochran had birdie putts on the last three holes, but couldn’t add to his lead.
He’ll need to keep scoring with players like Watson, Crenshaw and Langer in the hunt.
Langer, the three-time defending player of the year and the 2009 champion, opened with a 65 to match Jeff Sluman and Mark McNulty.
McNulty is playing in his first official event since having right knee replacement surgery in May.
Tom Lehman, Mark O’Meara and John Cook shot 66s.
Last year, Watson birdied the final two holes last year to beat senior newcomer Fred Couples.
“I made some long putts in the pro-am and I was hoping it would continue (Friday), and it did. If that continues for the rest of the week, I might be there at the end again,” the 61-year-old Watson said.
Crenshaw, meanwhile, is still chasing his first trophy on the Champions Tour where he playing in his 167th event. The two-time Masters winner, who turned 59 this month, matched his career low on the 50-and-over circuit with his 64 and chipped in for eagle on No. 4 from 55 feet.
“He’s due to win,” Watson said. “Overdue to win.”
Just not this weekend, right?
“In Florida,” Watson replied, referring to the next official event, the Allianz Championship.