SAN FRANCISCO: Defending champion John Cook shot a 7-under 64 on Thursday at Harding Park to take the first-round lead in the Champions Tour’s season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
Cook, the winner last year at Sonoma Golf Club, had a one-stroke lead over Fred Funk and Tom Pernice Jr.
Tom Lehman opened with a 66, Schwab Cup points leader Bernhard Langer topped a group at 67, and Fred Couples had 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 birdied six of the first 12 holes, making four in row on Nos. 9-12, also birdied No. 16 and overcame an errant approach shot on No. 18 to save par and keep the lead.
“I hit a lot of good quality shots, made some birdies with a 4-iron and 3-iron, took advantage of a couple par 5s and that was it,” Cook said.
“For the most part, I kept the ball in front of me and played pretty well. I have no complaints.”
Langer aced the 183-yard par-3 third, but had three bogeys.
Cook hasn’t won since his record-setting run in Sonoma when he shot a tournament-record 22-under 266. He has finished second three times this season and was third last week in the AT&T Championship in San Antonio.
Playing in the penultimate group, Cook took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather on the course that hosted the 2009 Presidents Cup. Players also were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls because of the conditions of some of the fairways.
That helped keep scores low overall. Twenty players broke par, while another five were at even par.
Cook, who grew up in Southern California, welcomed the weather but expects the course to play tougher as the week goes on. Temperatures are expected to dip and there’s a chance of rain Sunday.
“Need to be a little sharper throughout the week because this golf course, my feeling is it’s going to rear its head at some point,” Cook said.
“The fairways just aren’t conducive for a real good championship. I don’t know how many times I went up to my ball and went, ‘Wow, I’m glad I don’t have to play this.’ If you don’t play ball in hand, it’s just luck.”
Couples, who captained the winning U.S. Presidents Cup team last year, played steadily for most of the afternoon. He holed out for an eagle on the 550-yard, par-5 10th, but bogeyed No. 15.
Funk, who underwent knee replacement surgery last November, matched Cook with seven birdies but bogeyed No. 18 to fall a stroke back. Lehman also bogeyed the final hole, the only blemish on his scorecard.
“It was one of the best rounds I’ve had,” said Funk, who won the JELD-WEN Tradition in August. “In the last three weeks I’ve been hitting it like this. Pretty stress-free except for missing that last one. The bogey on 18 didn’t taste too good.”
Pernice is nearing the end of a rigorous schedule. He has played 10 events on the Champions Tour this year and another 21 on the PGA Tour.
“I like the challenge. I like to work hard,” said Pernice, winless this year.
“I just feel that as long as my game is still able to compete, I want to play against Phil (Mickelson) and Tiger (Woods) and those guys. I’ll try to do it as long as I can.”