SONOMA, Calif. – Things are going so well for John Cook these days that not even an errant tee shot into the bunker on the 18th hole could throw him off stride.
Now it’s just a matter of hanging on.
Cook shrugged off his only mistake of the day to save par on the final hole and finish at 6-under 66 on Saturday, preserving his six-shot lead heading into the final round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championships.
“Just for my psyche and my confidence, that was a good way to end it,” Cook said about his 8-foot putt on 18. “I wanted to make that putt bad. The harder you want things, the more relaxed you have to be (and) I was pretty relaxed over that putt.”
Cook, the Administaff Small Business Classic winner two weeks ago in Texas, had a 19-under 197 total on the Sonoma Golf Club course, the best 54-hole score in a 72-hole tournament since Jack Nicklaus also had a 197 total in the 1990 Senior Players Championship. Cook shot a tournament-record 62 on Friday.
The six-stroke lead is the largest after three rounds on the Champions Tour since Jay Haas had a six-stroke lead in the 2005 Schwab Cup Championship. Cook won the Administaff Small Business Classic two weeks ago in Texas.
Russ Cochran (68) was second at 13 under. Tom Watson (71), who began the day four shots behind Cook, and Brad Bryant (69) were 12 under.
Cook will be tough to catch. He was in the sand three times and hit only eight fairways off the tee but avoided trouble most of the day with a short game that has been strong all tournament.
His best save came on the 18th after pushing his tee shot into the bunker on the right side of the fairway. Instead of being able to go for the green with his second shot, Cook was forced to punch out of the trap then hit a wedge within 8 feet.
Cochran, who had six birdies and two bogeys to move into second place, was asked if he was looking forward to playing with Cook in Sunday’s final round.
“Not when he’s that far ahead,” Cochran joked. “He’s playing awfully well.”
Season points leader Loren Roberts had the day’s best round with a 66 to move to 7 under. Roberts struggled the first two rounds but had seven birdies and one bogey to jump up 10 spots to 15th place. Third-place Bernhard Langer (70) was 9 under, 2008 points champ Haas (70) was tied with Roberts at 7 under, while Fred Funk, who went into the weekend 165 points out of the lead, was 2 under following a 74.
The season points winner will receive a $1 million annuity.
“The first couple of days, particularly yesterday, I didn’t hit it well, didn’t putt well,” Roberts said. “I really went to work yesterday afternoon. I was the last guy on the range for a change.”
Unlike a day earlier when Cook needed just 23 putts in his 62, he had to scramble on a few holes. He bogeyed the 427-yard, par-4 12th, came back with birdies on 13, 15 and 16 then salvaged par on the 18th.
Watson couldn’t sustain the momentum he built after making eight birdies Friday. The 60-year-old Hall of Famer bogeyed the first hole and struggled with his touch most of the afternoon.
That enabled Cochran to make his move. One of only three players to break 70 in each of the first three rounds along with Cook and Bryant, Cochran had six birdies including one on the 142-yard, par-3 17th to move into second.
Langer looked as if he might make a stronger run at Roberts, getting to 10 under after a birdie on the 417-yard, par-4 sixth, but had consecutive bogeys on 7 and 8, dropped another stroke on the 18th.
Joey Sindelar withdrew and was taken to a hospital after complaining of dizziness and shortness of breath. According to a Champions Tour spokesman, Sindelar became dizzy after playing the 204-yard, par-3 fourth hole.
Sindelar rested in between holes and tried to play the fifth before withdrawing. Medical personnel attended to Sindelar at the course and the 51-year-old player was taken to the Sonoma Valley Hospital. Physicians later decided to keep Sindelar overnight for further tests.
Sindelar, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour titles, was 7 under for the tournament before withdrawing.