Champions Tour

Fred Funk, Steve Pate share lead at SAS Championship

Both men shot 69s Saturday and sit at 8-under-par 136

calexander@newsobserver.comOctober 7, 2012 

Champions Tour Golf

Fred Funk, co-leader at 8-under par after the second round of the SAS PGA Champions Tour golf tournament, acknowledges the crowd after putting out on the 18th green at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Ted Richardson)


— Fred Funk and Steve Pate sounded like a couple of guys coming off 75s Saturday in the SAS Championship.

Funk talked of how he chunked a shot and struggled all day with his driver. Pate talked of threatening a house at Prestonwood Country Club with one wild drive and how poor his iron play was during most of the second round.

In fact, Funk and Pate were the tournament co-leaders at 8-under-par 136, both after 69s. On a warm, sunny day when the leaderboard was tightly bunched, they held a one-shot lead over Jay Don Blake and Andrew Magee in the Champions Tour event.

Larry Nelson said his goal Saturday was to shoot his age. Nelson, 65, shot a 66 that was the day’s low score and just missed a birdie putt on the last hole.

Nelson, tied for fifth at 6-under 138, said his priority Sunday would change to winning the golf tournament. He has company, too. There are 12 players within three shots of Funk and Pate, and the forecast is foreboding: cloudy, cool and rainy, with highs in the low 60s.

“It’s the type of golf course, with the way conditions are, that it’s kind of hard to run away unless you’re playing extremely good,” Funk said. “No one has run away.

‘This course is playing long. On the card it’s 7,200 (yards). It’s playing all of it.”

Funk, who has seven career Champions Tour wins at age 56, did not make a birdie Saturday until the 12th hole, when he knocked in a 12-footer. Funk said he had a “dead chunk” at the par-4 13th but scrambled for a par.

Funk said he kept changing swing thoughts, and something finally clicked. He birdied three of the last five holes, with “gimme” putts at the par-4 16th and 18th holes.

Pate, 51, won six times on the PGA Tour but is seeking his first Champions Tour win. He had two 76s and a 75 last year in the SAS, finishing 72nd.

“My worst tournament of the year,” Pate said. “I mean, the golf course looks hard to me.”

Pate said he did have an easy 67 Friday. And Saturday? “Nothing was easy,” he said.

At the seventh hole, he said his drive “should have hit somebody’s house” but his ball hit a tree and landed inbounds. Pate said he chopped it back to the fairway, “fatted” a 6-iron and then two-putted from 50 feet for a par 5.

“I still hit a lot of greens, but it was ugly,” he said of the round. “It could have gone sideways pretty quickly and it didn’t, so that was nice.”

Smithfield’s Neal Lancaster, who is making his Champions Tour debut, had one shot go sideways Saturday and it was costly. Playing the par-4 ninth hole, his last hole of the round, he was 5-under for the day and the tournament.

“Someone told me I was one shot out of the lead,” he said. “My mind starting racing.”

Misjudging the wind, Lancaster put his 3-wood drive in the lake to the right of the fairway and double-bogeyed for a 69.

“I blew it,” he said. “I didn’t fully commit to the shot and looked like a duffer.”

The last of Nelson’s 19 Champions Tour wins came in 2004. A three-time major champion on the PGA Tour, he has not played since early August and needed an injection for a sore right shoulder.

Starting his round at the 10th hole Saturday, Nelson had six birdies. He closed with a rush, with birdies at the sixth, seventh and eighth holes and the near-miss from 18 feet at the ninth.

“It’s fun for me to have this opportunity,” said Nelson, who has played in every SAS since the tournament’s inception in 2001. “All of us are out here because we like the thrill of having to make a putt on the last hole.”

That’s what it might take Sunday. It’s just that close, that tight, in the SAS.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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