SAN FRANCISCO – Defending champion John Cook shot a 2-under 69 on Friday at Harding Park to take a one-stroke lead over Tom Kite and Tom Lehman in the Champions Tour’s season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
A day after opening with seven birdies in a bogey-free 64, Cook was even par through 15 holes, then eagled the par-4 16th – driving the green and making a 4-foot putt. He followed with pars on the final two holes to get to 9-under 133.
“This golf course is not easy and it played tough today,” Cook said. “A lot of us got trapped in between clubs, at least I did. I had to check my ego and go with what was the right thing to do.”
Last year, Cook won by five strokes at Sonoma Golf Club.
Kite had a 67, and Lehman shot a 68.
Mark O’Meara (65), Russ Cochran (68) and Fred Funk (70) were 7 under, and Schwab Cup points leader Bernard Langer (69) was in a group at 6 under. Fred Couples was 4 under after a 69.
Couples needs to win to catch Langer in the two-man race for the $1 million annuity. Even if Couples wins, Langer would take the top prize with a two-way tie for fourth or better.
Cook scrambled to save par out of the sand on No. 9 and bogeyed the par-4 13th to drop to 6 under, which left him two shots off the pace. He rebounded with a birdie on No. 14 then hit his driver on the 250-yard 16th within 4 feet of the pin to set up the eagle.
“It was a good shot but it was a better result probably,” Cook said of his tee shot on No. 16. “I think (the bogey) it kind of lit a little fire in me.”
Kite, whose best finish this season was third at the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in September, birdied three of the final five holes and nearly holed out on the 16th.
His tee shot hit the green and lipped out of the hole before rolling 15 feet past the pin. Kite missed his eagle try and settled for birdie, then added another birdie on No. 17 to pull within a stroke of Cook.
“I actually played fairly well on the front nine but didn’t really get a whole lot to happen,” Kite said. “All the fireworks really started happening at the end of the round. I played better today than I did yesterday, so that’s encouraging, even though the score’s the same.”
Funk was tied with Cook atop the leaderboard before a double bogey on No. 18 dropped him back into the pack. Funk’s approach on the par-4 final hole went into the deep rough well left of the fairway and his third shot landed in a bunker. He hit a wedge out of the sand, then two-putted for a 6.
Langer also had a run at the leaders when his birdie on No. 16 put him at 8 under along with Funk and Lehman. The points leader fell back a hole later with his double bogey on the par-3 17th.
Langer’s tee shot fell 15 yards shy of the green and his approach skipped over the green and into the rough. He then chipped up and two-putted.
“I hit some poor shots coming in,” Langer said. “The double bogey on 17 leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Hopefully, I’ll hit it a little better tomorrow.”