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Leaders in SAS Championship go low with first-round 62s

The opening round of the SAS Championship was played in perfect golf weather on Oct. 12, 2018, a day after Tropical Storm Michael dumped 3.5 inches of rain on the Prestonwood Country Club course in Cary.
The opening round of the SAS Championship was played in perfect golf weather on Oct. 12, 2018, a day after Tropical Storm Michael dumped 3.5 inches of rain on the Prestonwood Country Club course in Cary. Chip Alexander

John Cook, working this week for the Golf Channel, was shaking his head Friday as he walked off the 18th green at Prestonwood Country Club.

“I don’t believe what I just saw,” Cook said.

What Cook had just seen was Bernhard Langer birdie nine of his last 10 holes -- perhaps the best finish of any competitive round in his long career, Langer later said -- to card a 10-under-par 62 in the opening round of the SAS Championship.

And Langer didn’t even have the lead to himself.

Gene Sauers, and then Tom Lehman, also had finished with 62s on a day that was sunny and dry after Tropical Storm Michael blew through the area Thursday. That was one shot off the tournament record, a 61 by Tom Kite in the 2003 SAS.

No wonder Cook, a former PGA Tour player who has cut back on his PGA Tour Champions playing schedule, was shaking his head after being the on-course reporter for Langer’s threesome.

“The course was in phenomenal shape considering the rain we had yesterday,” Langer said. “I had some pictures from 13 and 14 fairway and the creek down there, and I didn’t think we were going to play on time.”

It helped the scoring that the pros were allowed to lift, clean and place their balls in the fairways after the 3.5 inches of rain Thursday. The greens were softer and more conducive to holding shots aimed at the flags.

Langer used a final-round 63 to win the SAS title in 2012 and has contended other times at Prestonwood. Then again, Langer always seems to be in contention. A four-time Charles Schwab Cup winner on the PGA Tour Champions, he has shot 62s four times in tournaments during his career on the tour and won all four, so that’s more history in his favor.

It was the 33rd time Langer has held or shared the first-round lead in a Champions event. He went on to win 15 of the previous 32 events. That’s astounding, Tiger-esque.

“I always say when you play well, when you hit it where you are looking and you make the putts, you can play well anywhere,” Langer said. “But this is certainly a place I enjoy coming back to.”

Even Langer, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, seemed a bit awestruck about his finishing kick Friday -- the birdies on nine of the last 10 and a back-nine 29. Had he birdied the par-4 14th, he would have shot his age.

“It was pretty amazing,” said the two-time Masters champion. “There were not too many tap-ins but short range, where you hope to or expect to make them ... somewhere between 4 and 20 feet.”

Lehman birdied his last four holes and six of the last seven, also parring the 14th. For the former British Open champion, the 62 matched his low on tour.

“Just an absolutely perfect day, very little wind, just a perfect temperature -- not too hot, not too cold, no humidity,” Lehman said. “It was just a great day to play golf.”

Olin Browne and Jerry Kelly shared fourth place with 6-under 66s, and by day’s end there were 20 players who shot in the 60s and 11 bogey-free rounds. The average score was 71.53.

Scott McCarron, the tour’s leading money leader, had a 73.

Langer, fourth on the tour money list this year, Sauers (15th) and Lehman (16th) are all well-positioned for the Charles Schwab Cup playoffs, which begin next week.

The top 72 players advance to the playoffs and the SAS Championship offers an extra enticement: Wildcard Weekend. If a player outside the top 72 coming into the tournament has a top-10 finish, he’ll earn the wild card for the playoffs, bumping out the player who was 72nd before the SAS.

Judging by Friday’s scores that player would have to go low to get there.

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