Tom Lehman’s track record at the Principal Charity Classic has been consistently impressive.
He’s never placed outside the Top 10 in six previous appearances at this PGA TOUR Champions stop. In fact, a tie for eighth is his worst finish. On Sunday, the Minnesota native would like to finish what he started.
“You better believe it would be nice to win here,” said Lehman, who takes a two-shot lead into the final round after a 7-under-par 65 Saturday. “But there are a lot of good players, and a lot of low scores.”
Lehman’s only bogey of the tournament, at the 18th hole Saturday, gave him a 36-hole score of 131. It’s the lowest 36-hole score since the PGA TOUR Champions event moved from Glen Oaks to Wakonda in 2013. The 65 was also a career low for Lehman in 20 Principal Charity Classic rounds. All 20 rounds have been under par.
That final-role bogey reduced Lehman’s lead to two shots over Bernhard Langer (69), Scott Parel (66), Glen Day (68) and Woody Austin (68). Corey Pavin (67) and Jerry Kelly (68) are tied for sixth.
The field averaged 70.195 strokes in the second round, a low at Wakonda. The previous mark, of 70.519, had been set on Friday.
“There are a ton of guys at eight, nine, 10, 11 under par,” Lehman said. “That’s why that bogey on the last hole is so disappointing. I was trying to separate myself from the field by one more shot. To let the field be one shot closer is frustrating. It makes tomorrow more of a challenge. I’ll have to play another good round.”
A big drive left Lehman just 63 yards from the hole on his approach to the 18th. But his second shot sailed long into a snarly lie in the rough. His chip went 10 feet past and his par putt burned the cup but didn’t fall.
“The bogey was disappointing, but you really can’t let that dictate how you feel about the course or the entire day, or the first two days,” Lehman said. “I’ve played a lot of very good golf. I made a blunder there. But it is what it is. You move on.”
A 10-time winner on the PGA TOUR Champions, Lehman has taken the lead or the share of the lead into the final round nine times. He’s won five of those tournaments.
Earlier this year, Lehman and Langer lost a playoff to Kirk Triplett and Paul Broadhurst at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge. They’ve played as a team in that event for seven years, winning it in 2009.
But Sunday will be man-to-man. Langer has won 37 times on the PGA TOUR Champions. In seven of those victories, he’s overcome deficits of two shots or more heading into the final round.
Langer knows the winning formula.
“Play perfect golf, hit good tee shots, good iron shots, make some putts,” Langer said. “That’s what you need to do. Otherwise, you’re not going to win.”
Langer’s overall track record is not as impressive as Lehman’s at the Principal Charity Classic. Langer tied for 31st in his first visit to Wakonda in 2013. And a tie for 48th in 2015 was his worst finish all season. But he’s learned to play this old-style classic, finishing fourth last season and getting himself into contention again this year.
A victory on Sunday would give him a little Wakonda payback.
“It’s always fun to win, period,” Langer said. “But it’s great to win on a golf course that you’ve struggled with for awhile. It would be very satisfying.”
The Principal Charity Classic is just one of eight tournaments on this year’s 27-event PGA TOUR Champions schedule that Langer hasn’t won. And two of those are first-year events.
Parel has come close to victory on the PGA TOUR Champions this season. At the Mitsubishi Electric Classic, he found himself in a playoff with Steve Flesch and Langer. Langer bowed out on the first hole. Flesch won with a birdie on the second hole.
“Obviously, I’m going to have to shoot a pretty low score again (Sunday) to have a chance,” Parel said. “If the weather holds in there, I think it will be a great day.”
Lehman, the 1996 British Open champion, will be trying to win on a course he first played as a collegian at the University of Minnesota.
“I feel really comfortable with the course and the ability to shoot a good score here,” Lehman said. “It’s just a matter of whether the score you shoot is going to be good enough to win.”
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter