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One fine day is followed by another

SONOMA, Calif. -- So much for the theory that it is hard to follow a great round with another one the next day.

John Cook had a handsome encore for his second-round 62 at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, shooting a 67 Saturday to extend his lead to six strokes with one round to play at Sonoma GC.

There doesn't look like much can go wrong with Cook's simple swing, which 1964 U.S. Open champion Ken Venturi began shaping when Cook was only 14, and nearly everything has gone right this week for the now 52-year-old.

At 19-under 197, Cook matched Jack Nicklaus' record total for the first 54 holes in a 72-hole Champions Tour event (1990 Mazda Senior Players Championship) and has the largest lead going into the final day of a four-round event since Jay Haas at the CSCC in 2005.

Cook has bludgeoned the par 5s, playing them nine under, and hit 45 of 54 greens in regulation. Dinner was going to taste better after he scrambled for a par on the 18th hole Saturday after having to pitch out of a fairway bunker.

Cook's challengers -- Russ Cochran (13 under), Tom Watson and Brad Bryant (12 under) and Larry Mize, Jeff Sluman and Phil Blackmar (11 under) -- will have to do something special to prevent Cook from claiming his second victory of 2009.

Unless one of the chasers puts up a great round, merely a good one by Cook might be enough to secure his fourth career senior win.

-- Bill Fields
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News & Tours

PGA Tour tweaks tournament eligibility categories

MADISON, Miss. -- Not that it's likely to have a significant impact on tournament fields, but the PGA Tour has made a change to some of its bottom-tier membership categories beginning in 2010.

Players in the Past Champions, Team Tournament Winners and Veteran Members categories have to fulfill one of the following criteria to remain eligible for tournament berths:

* Competed in Q-School on the PGA Tour or Champions Tour in the current year or two years previously.

* Made a cut on the PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour in the current year or previous two calendar years.

* Played at least five events combined on the PGA Tour, Nationwide or Champions Tour during the current or preceding year.

There are 33 membership categories on the PGA Tour. The three in question are Nos. 30, 31 and 33, respectively.

-- Dave Shedloski

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News & Tours

Roberts working overtime, looking for payoff

SONOMA, Calif. - Loren Roberts' chances of winning the season-long Charles Schwab Cup points competition and a $1 million annuity are looking good midway through the third round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

Roberts helped his cause by shooting a 66 at Sonoma GC to climb to T-14 after shooting 70-73 the first two rounds. "I really went to work yesterday afternoon," Roberts said. "I was the last guy on the range, for a change. I played a lot better today and got off to a fast start [three consecutive birdies]."

But it's not just what Roberts, the current points leader, is doing but the fates of contenders Bernhard Langer, Jay Haas and Fred Funk that will determine the outcome.

Haas, who needs to win the tournament to have a chance, is currently in 17th place 11 shots behind leader John Cook. Funk is in 23rd place. Only Langer, currently in 10th spot in the tournament through 11 holes of his third round, is in any kind of position to threaten Roberts.

Langer is three shots out of second place at the moment. If Langer were to finish solo second Sunday, Roberts would need to finish ninth or better in order to win the yearly competition.

"I'm not going to relax," said Roberts. "I've just got to try to go out and shoot as low as I can tomorrow."

-- Bill Fields

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News & Tours

Nick Price breezes around

SONOMA, Calif. -- Nick Price got his work done in a hurry Saturday at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
 
Eschewing a non-competing marker and playing by himself, Price breezed around Sonoma GC in two hours, 28 minutes and shot a four-under 68, his best round of the tournament.
 
"I just played at my normal pace," said Price, who had climbed from 29th place to T-19 when he was done. "There was one hole when I felt I was on the march and took a couple of deep breaths and slowed down a bit. I had the option of a marker, but I'd rather just go at my own pace. If you and your caddie can get in a groove, there is nothing else taking your focus away."
 
The Schwab field went from 30 to 29 players before the first round when Tom Lehman withdrew to be with his ill father, who passed away this week. (It was shortened to 28 players Saturday when Joey Sindelar withdrew because of illness.)
 
Despite the attractive pace of play, Price did have to deal with his right shoulder, which has been sore for about two weeks. "It tightens up on me - I think I've strained something," Price said. "When I wake up in the morning it feels like I've thrown 100 pitches."

-- Bill Fields
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News & Tours

'Tiger disguises a lot of the problems'

Tony Jacklin, like so many others of his generation, is not enamored with the direction that golf is going, placing the blame on the governing bodies and their lack of leadership on equipment issues.

"No one wants to believe the game today is not as good as it was," he told the United Kingdom's Golf World magazine (unrelated to the U.S. magazine of the same name). "Tiger disguises a lot of the problems.

"I'm not sure the R&A and the USGA are properly shouldering the responsibility they have. They seem happy to let things go the way they are going and the manufacturers have a responsibility, too.

"I don't accept that nothing can be done about the ball and how far it goes. The tours could make a decision on what players can use and do it that way.

"They (officials) seem happy to keep on playing 7,600-yard courses that cost more to maintain and take forever to play. The length of time it takes to play now is the biggest problem. Who the hell wants to take five hours plus to play 18 holes? Not me."

-- John Strege

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News & Tours

Cook still keeping an eye on Watson

SONOMA, Calif. -- When he was a young buck on the PGA Tour, John Cook made a conscious effort to watch (and learn from) Tom Watson. Cook was mentored by Ken Venturi, who had been taught by Byron Nelson, who was close to Watson. Cook worked his way into practice-round pairings with Watson whenever he could.

"You can only learn by observing, and I tried to observe Tom Watson as much as I could on the regular tour in my early years," Cook said. "There's no question I learned as much from him as I did any [other] player. I was just soaking stuff [up]."

Like a lot of golfers on the Champions Tour, Cook still loves to get paired with Watson, who plays with dispatch and accepts the bad with the good as well as anyone who has ever played. "No B.S., he just gets up and hits it," Cook said. Plus, as Cook noted, if you're paired with Watson, it's a good bet you're near the top of a leader board, which is where the two men find themselves after two rounds of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

Cook and Watson will be in the final pairing Saturday after lighting up Sonoma GC Friday. On a calm, sunny day perfect for golf , Cook shot a 10-under 62 to take a three-stroke lead at 14-under 130 over Watson, who shot a 64 and is T-2 with Phil Blackmar at 11-under.

"We were out there going, 'This is like a Bob Hope Desert Classic day,' " Cook said. It starts out cool in the morning, then the sun comes out and it gets to the mid-70s. Very little wind, and the ball was traveling. This is really like playing in a dome."

-- Bill Fields

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News & Tours

Duval hedges his bets, enters Q school

duval_blog.jpg

MADISON, Miss. -- Perched precariously on the bubble at 125th on the PGA TOUR money list entering this week's Viking Classic, former British Open champion David Duval is following his practical inclinations and considering all of his options for the 2010 season. Among them is entry in the PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament.

Duval said Friday at Annandale GC that he has entered Q-School in case he is not fully exempt next season. The 13-time Tour winner played this season on his one-time exemption for top-50 in career earnings. The final stage of Q-School is Dec. 2-7 at Orange County National in Winter Park, Fla.

"I actually looked into it last year, and I found out I was exempt into the final stage, but, unfortunately, I had missed the deadline by two days," Duval said with a laugh. "So this year I went ahead and checked earlier and then entered. I just figured it was best to have that option."

Duval, who turns 38 in 10 days, said he was trying to not be fixated on what his status would be next year. His 125th-place standing is due largely to his tie for second at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, where he earned $559,830, which, interestingly qualifies him for the 2010 Masters and U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

"I would like to think I could play 15 or 18 events off exemptions, but you never know. It's not something you want to do necessarily," Duval said. "I'm in a unique position, though, because I could conceivably not be exempt on the PGA Tour next year, but I would be in the first three majors. Kind of a funny situation. I think I've been pretty loyal to tournaments, and I would like to think I'll be able to play enough off exemptions. We'll see what happens."

Regardless of where Duval finishes, it clearly appears that he is gearing up for 2010. Last week at the Frys.com Open, Duval reunited with caddie Mitch Knox, who was on his bag for all of his 13 victories.

"We've had a lot of good success together," said Knox, who last worked with Duval in '04. "Hopefully, we'll say something or do something at the right time that will help him in a certain situation to get him over the hump. He knows what to do. I was fortunate enough to be with him when he was playing really well, and I can tell you, that was something to watch. I think he can be that player again. I just want to help."

-- Dave Shedloski

(Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)


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News & Tours

Discounting the Players Championship

The PGA Tour is dropping ticket prices 40 percent, from $75 to $45, for the Players Championship next year in an effort to boost attendance and by extension the tournament's charitable donations. A weekly pass will sell for $145, down from $199 in 2009.

These offers are good only through the end of the year, at which point daily prices go up to $65, still a reduction from 2008, while weekly passes will go to $165.

-- John Strege

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News & Tours

Blackmar and Sluman go head to head. Or more precisely, head to neck...

SONOMA, Calif. - Great pairing in the final group of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship Friday: Phil Blackmar and Jeff Sluman, a foot of difference in their height, none on their scorecards Thursday as both shot six-under 66 to share the first-round lead at Sonoma GC.
 
Early in the second round the 6-foot-7 Blackmar and the 5-7 Sluman are playing to a draw, both even par for the day through seven holes and trailing John Cook, who is at nine under for the tournament through eight holes.
 
As the 52-year-old Blackmar noted after the first round, he used to be even taller. "I've shrunk lately," he said. "I was 6-7 and 5/8ths at my tallest. I'm about 6-7 now. I can hit it really straight off my knees, so I'm just waiting until I can get about that height so I can hit it straight."
 
In the points race for the Charles Schwab Cup, leader Loren Roberts isn't helping his cause. He is three-over for the day and T-28 at one-over through 11 holes. Pursuers Bernhard Langer (currently T-8), Fred Funk and Jay Haas (both T-17) are in position to put some pressure on Roberts, who entered the week with a 165-point advantage over Funk in the quest for the $1 million annuity.
 
-- Bill Fields
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News & Tours

Mississippi mud doesn't dampen Tour hopes for Fowler, Lovemark

MADISON, Miss. -- The potential cancelation of the rain-plagued Viking Classic is dampening the spirits of those Tour players fighting for the top 125 on the money list and full exempt status next year, but Jamie Lovemark might start rooting for a Mudville strikeout.

Lovemark tied for second last week at the Frys.com Open after he and Rickie Fowler lost in a playoff to Troy Matteson, but instead of entering the Viking Classic (for which he was exempt by finishing in the top 10), Lovemark opted for the first stage of the PGA Tour National Qualifying Tournament in Pinehurst, N.C. Lovemark is currently in third place through three rounds of the 72-hole First Stage event at Pinewild CC.

But it looks like Lovemark, the Southern Cal All-American, might get to use that top-10 after all. According to tournament director Slugger White, the top-10 exemption carries over to the season-ending Children's Miracle Network Classic Nov. 9-15 at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando if the Viking Classic is canceled. Fowler, who entered the Viking, also would be eligible to play at Disney if there is no golf this week at Annandale GC.

Fowler's $553,700 in earnings in two events would put him 135th on the PGA Tour money list if the season ended today while Lovemark would finish 147th with $453,872 after making two of four cuts this year.

-- Dave Shedloski

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