SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Asked about the season title scenarios entering the Champions Tour finale, Tom Lehman said all he knew was “if I win, I win.”
That’s all he needed to know.
Lehman won the Charles Schwab Cup Championship on Sunday at Desert Mountain to become the first player to win the season points title two straight years.
After shooting 68-63-62 to take a one-stroke lead into the final round, Lehman birdied four of the last five holes for a 5-under 65 and a six-stroke victory.
“It was a great week from start to finish,” Lehman said. “Absolutely, I played some of my best golf of the year. I’m very, very fortunate and thankful to be able to kind of bring my best when I needed it.”
Lehman won at the mountainside club where he first worked with Jim Flick, the noted swing instructor stricken by pancreatic cancer.
“The more I thought about that, the more teary-eyed I would get,” said Lehman, who spoke to Flick on the phone before the round. “I decided I can’t play this round of golf with tears in my eyes. I have to wait until business is finished.”
Lehman finished at 22-under 258 on the par-70 Cochise Course to break the Champions Tour record for the lowest numerical score in a 72-hole event. Jack Nicklaus set the previous record of 261 at par-72 Dearborn Country Club in Michigan in the 1990 Mazda Senior TPC.
Lehman also tied the tournament record for relation to par set by John Cook in 2009 at the par-72 Sonoma Golf Club in California.
“To chase a white ball and call it a job is so much fun to do,” Lehman said. “And the competition is so much fun.”
Lehman received a $1 million annuity in the Charles Schwab Cup points competition and earned $440,000 for the tournament victory. The 53-year-old Scottsdale resident also won the Regions Tradition in June in Alabama and has seven victories in 62 career starts on the 50-and-over tour. He won five times on the PGA Tour.
He’ll use part of the $1 million annuity to help with a junior foundation he plans to set up to honor Flick.
“I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like,” Lehman said. “It probably will involve a tournament, a junior tournament. ... If there is money needed to get it going, I’m sure this is where it will come from.”
Jay Haas shot a 69 to finish second. Jay Don Blake was third at 14 under after a 66, and Fred Couples and Fred Funk were another stroke back. Couples, a stroke behind Lehman at the start of the round, had a 73, and Funk shot 65.
Bernhard Langer was sixth at 11 under after a 65. He finished second in the season race, 435 points back after entering the week with a 211-point lead.
“Tom Lehman had a fantastic year and a very good week,” said Langer, who earned a $500,000 annuity. “”He deserves to win. He deserves to be the champion. When it was necessary he put the pedal to the metal and that’s what it takes.”
Langer won twice this year and topped the money list with $2,140,296. Lehman was second on the money list with $1,982,575.
“It was really a consistent and a very good year,” Langer said. “The putter held me back this week and a few other things held me back a few other weeks.”
Tom Watson is the only other player to sweep the tournament and points title, accomplishing the feat in 2005 at Sonoma. Lehman is the fifth player to win two points titles, following Hale Irwin (2002, 2004), Watson (2003, 2005), Haas (2006, 2008) and Loren Roberts (2007, 2009).
Lehman escaped trouble to birdie the par-14 14th, a day after holing a curving 35-foot par putt from the fringe on the difficult hole.
His drive nestled into thick rough inches past the front lip of a fairway bunker, forcing him to take a stance with his right foot in the bunker and his left about a foot and a half higher in the grass. He choked up on a 7-iron, took a short slash of a swing and advanced the ball about 155 yards, leaving a 12-foot putt.
“I was probably a little bit lucky it didn’t go in the sand, it would have been a much more difficult shot,” Lehman said. “It was a very tough shot as it was, just kind of choked down a 7-iron and just chipped it down the fairway and it ran up on the green.”
He pumped his fist in a rare emotional display when the birdie putt tumbled in.
“That was just knowing that that was a huge turning point,” Lehman said.
The unlikely birdie gave Lehman a four-stroke cushion, but Haas pulled within three again minutes later with a birdie on the par-5 15th.
Lehman pushed the advantage back to four with a 12-foot birdie putt on 15, and increased the lead to five with yet another 12-footer on the par-4 16th. Thinking about the ailing Flick, he missed an eagle putt on the par-5 18th and tapped in for one last birdie.
“I felt quite certain that that was probably the last driver he was ever going to see me hit and I wanted to make it a good one,” Lehman said about the closing hole. “And the last 7-iron he will ever see me hit, and I wanted to make that a good one. And the last putt, and I wanted to make that putt. I didn’t want to make it simply because I want to win by six, or whatever, I wanted to make it for him. I hit a good putt. You can’t always get what you want.”