Blake takes lead in Charles Schwab Championship
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A 20-year winless streak and a history of back pain behind him, Jay Don Blake finally feels comfortable on the Champions Tour.
He’s playing like it, too.
Blake emerged from a pack of contenders and shot a 5-under 66 on Saturday to take a two-stroke lead after the third round of the season-ending Charles Schwab Championship.
“It’s given me quite a bit of confidence, knowing that I feel like I belong and I can win out here,” Blake said. “I just think a lot of us want it so bad … that we probably get in our own way sometimes trying to make things happen instead of just being patient. That’s what I’ve tried to do, just be patient with myself.”
Jay Haas shot a 67 to join Michael Allen (69) and David Frost (69) at 6 under. Loren Roberts was another stroke back after a 65, the best round of the tournament.
A day after limping through the final seven holes because of nagging lower back pains, Haas looked fine while moving back into contention.
“It doesn’t seem to hurt when I swing,” Haas said. “It’s funny, when I’m standing around it bothers me. With the adrenaline, I’m able to hit.”
Charles Schwab Cup points leader Tom Lehman was tied for 16th at 1 over after a 72. Mark Calcavecchia, 382 points behind Lehman, had a 70 that left him tied for sixth at 4 under. He needs to finish at least second to win the season title
Fred Couples, tied with Allen for the second-round lead, shot a 74 to drop into a tie for 12th at 1 under.
Blake, who went 424 consecutive tournaments without a win until capturing the Songdo IBD Championship in South Korea earlier this season, had five birdies in his bogey-free round at TPC Harding Park. He pulled ahead with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 and finished at 8 under.
Not bad for someone who hadn’t played this course before and who began the season playing on partial-exemption status while needing to play Monday qualifiers in some of the events.
The victory in South Korea in September – Blake’s first on any tour since the PGA Tour’s 1991 Shearson Lehman Brothers Open – gave him full status through next year.
Blake also is free from the back pain that hindered him earlier in his career and forced him to step away from the PGA tour earlier than he wanted.
Though he still has to do stretching exercises before each round to keep his back loose, Blake is making up for lost time playing at Harding for the first time.
While Frost and Allen both took sole possession of the lead and then lost it, Blake quietly worked his way up the leaderboard with birdies on Nos. 2, 8 and 9. He got to 7 under with another birdie on 16, then made a 30-foot putt from the fringe on 17.
“When I hit it I thought it was going to come about three feet short,” Blake said. “I think the spectators in the bleachers cheered it in. They were saying, ‘Roll, roll, roll.'”
Haas also closed strong to get back in contention. The U.S. Presidents Cup assistant captain had three birdies on the front, bogeyed No. 11 then birdied the final two holes.
Frost and Allen stayed within range of the leaders despite both struggling down the stretch with two bogeys apiece over the final six holes.
Allen was at 7 under until his bogey at par-4 18th dropped him back.
“Definitely a cooler, difficult day,” Allen said. “I’m struggling to hit the ball. I’m not quite on my game right now.”
Roberts, the points champion in 2007 and ’09, had seven birdies and a bogey after going 1 over through the first two round.
Couples dropped well off the pace after double bogeys on 12 and 18. He also had a bogey on No. 8, a par 3.
Earlier, Couples and Calcavecchia were greeted on the first tee by Hall of Fame baseball great Willie Mays. Mays laughed with the two players and joked with their caddies while fans looked on.
This isn’t the first time Couples and Mays have talked, either. The two first met at the Presidents Cup here in 2009, and earlier this week Couples fondly recalled spending two hours then with Mays.