KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii – John Cook and Tom Lehman finished atop the leaderboard at Hualalai to open the 2011 Champions Tour season. The rest of the year went pretty much the same way with each player claiming three events on the 50-and-over circuit.
Cook is back in Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, which starts Friday and is the first of 23 official events on the 2012 schedule.
Lehman is coming off a strong season in which he won a career-best $2.1 million en route to claiming the money title and player of the year honors. Following his runner-up finish at Hualalai, he went on to win three of his first seven starts, including beating Peter Senior in a two-hole playoff at the Regions Tradition.
Lehman had 12 top-10 finishes last year, leading the tour in driving and greens in regulation. He was second in scoring to Mark Calcavecchia in scoring. Lehman became the first player to earn player-of-the-year honors on the Nationwide Tour (1991), PGA Tour (1996) and Champions Tour (2011).
Last year, Cook birdied five straight holes after the turn to win at Hualalai to hold off Lehman by two strokes.
The two are among 41 players entered this year in the winners-only event that includes nine members of the World Golf Hall of Fame and eight former Ryder Cup captains.
Six players will be making their Hualalai debut, including Calcavecchia, Jay Don Blake, Olin Browne, Brad Faxon, John Huston and Kenny Perry.
Eight players in this year’s field are age 60 and over, led by 66-year-old Hale Irwin, who is making his 17th straight appearance here. Irwin won the event in 2007 and 1997. The 2007 win was the last of his record 45 career titles on the Champions Tour.
While the players work to get back into tournament shape, Hualalai is probably the best place to do it. For eight of the last nine years, the par-72, Jack Nickalus-designed resort course has been the easiest layout on the Champions Tour.