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Lehman in holiday spirit at Montreal Championship

BLAINVILLE, Quebec – With the Montreal Championship set to begin on Canada Day, Champions Tour leader Tom Lehman didn’t miss the occasion to get into the holiday spirit.

“Does that mean we take the day off and sit at the range and drink beer?” Lehman joked on Thursday after his pro-am round at Fontainebleau Golf Club.

Lehman and defending champion Larry Mize will tee off on Friday in the second edition of the event.

Mize’s victory last year was his first in an official tournament in 17 years, dating to the 1993 Buick Open.

 “The nice thing is I’m the only one that has won here before so you’ve got to use that as a positive to your advantage,” said Mize, the 1987 Masters winner. “It’s just great to be back and playing here and I’m just looking forward to getting back out and playing in front of these great crowds.”

The 52-year-old Georgian will be hard-pressed to defend his title against a field headed up by Lehman, a three-time winner this year who leads the Schwab Cup standings.

“I’ve had good momentum throughout the year,” said Lehman, who has six top-10 finishes in 10 events. “My game is good but there are a lot of other players who are playing very well, so it should be a very competitive tournament. But I have high expectations, obviously.”

Lehman, the 1996 British Open winner, can only add to his points lead. His nearest competition, No. 2 Nick Price and No. 3 Tom Watson, are taking the week off.

“The fact that they are not here, during the course of the year it balances out,” Lehman said. “I play some events that they don’t and they play some events that I don’t, so typically I don’t worry about it. I just try to get a good game plan for this week and do the best I can this week, and then I’ll take what I get.”

Hale Irwin, the Champions Tour’s career leader with 45 wins, had his 203rd top-10 finish Sunday in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in Endicott, N.Y., tying Bob Charles’ tour record.

The 66-year-old Irwin has finished in the top-10 five times in 11 events this year, including a fourth-place finish at the Senior PGA Championship in Louisville in late May, after accomplishing the feat just three times over the course of the three previous years combined.

“I feel like I’m in a re-learning curve, sort of, and that’s kind of exciting,” said Irwin, a three-time U.S. Open champion. “Not that I got bored, I never got bored, but I think there’s a point in time where the status quo changes almost every day.

“I think I’ve needed challenges and this is definitely a challenge now.”

Fred Couples, the anchor of the 2011 Montreal Championship’s marketing campaign, advised tournament organizers last weekend that he had to withdraw because of a back injury. Loren Roberts and Fred Funk are also sidelined by injuries.

“Those things happen,” Irwin said.

John Huston, a Champions Tour rookie who claimed his first win Sunday, is in the field that includes Tom KiteCorey PavinJohn CookJeff Sluman, Jeff Haas, Hal Sutton and Larry Nelson.