Russ Cochran, hardly the brash type, would never claim to be the favorite in the SAS Championship this week.
Bernard Langer has won five times this year on the Champions Tour and is a past SAS winner. Surely, he’s the one to watch when the tournament begins Friday.
But Cochran did win last year at Prestonwood Country Club. And, oh-by-the-way, he also won the SAS in 2010, meaning the lefthander has taken two of the past four.
Sounds like he should one of the favorites, doesn’t it?
“I’m just waiting to see what my game offers this week and hoping to get back in my groove,” Cochran said, smiling.
Spoken like a veteran. The Champions Tour is celebrating its 35th anniversary and the competition level, tournament to tournament, is high.
Davis Love III is 50 and now on the Champions Tour – although not at the SAS. Colin Montgomerie also is a rookie and has twice won majors this year on the 50-and-older tour that has long since shed its cocktail-and-golf reputation and mimics PGA Tour events in staging and presentation.
“The guys out here are competitive and haven’t lost skills,” said John Cook, who won the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach two weeks ago. “They’ve won a lot of golf tournaments, so if you’re going into Sunday trying to win, you’re trying to beat guys who have won hundreds of tournaments and dozen of majors, Hall of Famers. They’re not some wet-behind-the-ears kids who can’t get the tee in the ground.
“It’s a second chance for a lot of guys. It’s also an opportunity to keep your career going. This is what we do. We play.”
Langer leads the Charles Schwab Cup points race with 3,624 points, and a rejuvenated Montgomerie is 633 points behind. Also playing the SAS, which has a $2.1 million purse, is former champion Kenny Perry, who won the Schwab Cup last year.
Perry recently took a nice break away from golf after the PGA Championship, and is back and refreshed.
“Played 18 holes in two months,” Perry said. “Took my grandkids to Disney World, did a little racing, actually enjoyed life. I’ve never done that in 30 years of playing the PGA Tour and Champions Tour.”
Cochran, 55, came to the SAS a year ago having won the Principal Charity Classic. The Paducah, Ky., native got into a groove that, he said, probably won him a second SAS title.
“I had a stretch for about 20-some holes where I was so many under par,” he said. “That kind of made the tournament, a great run from the middle of the first round to back side of second round. Knowing I can get streaky on this course is a big thing.”
Cochran is like many on the Champions Tour. He played the PGA Tour for several years, winning once – the 1991 Western Open – and losing a playoff to Craig Stadler in the 1991 Tour Championship at Pinehurst No. 2.
But he has had more success since turning 50. The 2013 SAS title was his fifth career victory on tour and he closed the year with almost $1.46 million in winnings.
Cochran’s best finish this year has been a tie for third in the Senior Players Championship in late-June. With almost $866,000, he ranks 12th on the tour money list.
“I feel like this has been a little bit of down year,” he said. “Nothing goes on out here on the really good side unless you roll it, and my putting has been down all year.”
Cochran ranks fourth in overall driving and 17th on tour in greens in regulation. He’s 54th in putting average.
“I’m hoping to change that around,” he said.
This might be the course and the tournament. It has been for Cochran in the past – twice.