KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii – Russ Cochran shot a 7-under 65 on Saturday to maintain a two-stroke lead over defending champion Tom Watson in the Champions Tour’s season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship.
The 52-year-old Cochran, coming off a two-win season that broke a nearly 20-year drought, was in control for a second day, turning in another bogey-free round. The left-hander had seven birdies for a 17-under 127 total that matched Don Pooley’s 36-hole record set in 2006.
Watson shot a 65, birdieing the last hole to reach 15 under – the same two-round total he had last year when he led by two strokes.
John Cook birdied half the holes and was alone in third place at 14 under after carding the lowest score in the round with a 64. He was stroke ahead of Jeff Sluman (66), while Tom Lehman (66) and Mark McNulty (67) followed at 12 under.
Hualalai was just slightly windier and noticeably warmer than in the opening round when the field cruised through the Jack Nicklaus-designed resort course.
Cochran was steady and cool in the Hawaiian heat, using his sharp short game that seemed in midseason form. He began the round with a two-stroke lead over Watson and Ben Crenshaw after opening with a career-best 62 that included two eagles on the back nine.
With Cook scorching the front nine and Watson making a charge at the turn, Cochran birdied five holes during a seven-hole stretch in the middle of the round to preserve his lead.
With son Ryan as his caddie, Cochran birdied the par-3 12th to reach 15 under, giving him a one-stroke lead over Cook. Cochran hit a pitching wedge from 167 yards to 4 feet.
On the next hole, he opened up a three stroke-lead by dropping a 20-foot birdie putt. Watson holed an 8-foot birdie putt on 18 to pull within two.
The 61-year-old Watson stumbled early with a bogey on No. 2 when he missed the green and a 10-footer for par. But he recovered and birdied Nos. 11, 12, 13 and 14 to pull up the crowded leaderboard.
The winner Sunday will earn $305,000, while the last-place finisher will take home $10,000. A record 42 players, including seven Hall of Famer golfers, are entered in the event featuring major champions from the last five years, other tournament winners in the last two seasons and eight sponsor invitees.