SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Defending champion Jay Don Blake was back on top in the Champions Tour finale. Fred Couples also found himself on the leaderboard in his first tour start in nearly 10 weeks.
Blake birdied three of the final four holes for a 6-under 64 and a one-stroke lead Thursday in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. Last year, he won at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
"It's been a long time since I've been able to defend a title," Blake said. "I have to admit I was nervous. I didn't know what to expect. I was just hoping to play well."
Gary Hallberg shot a 65 in perfect conditions on a warm day at Desert Mountain, and Couples was another stroke back along with Jay Haas, Olin Browne and Bill Glasson.
Couples is playing for the first time since a back injury forced him to withdraw during the first round of the Boeing Classic outside Seattle in late August. He completed a round for the first time since winning the Senior British Open in July for his second victory of the year.
"Beginner's luck," Couples joked after birdieing the final two holes on the Cochise Course. "I hit the ball solid. I'm thrilled to death to be 4 under."
Charles Schwab Cup leader Bernhard Langer birdied the final two holes for a 69, second-place Tom Lehman shot a 68, and third-place Roger Chapman had a 69.
"I'm very happy with my finish," Langer said.
Langer has a 211-point lead over Lehman and 657-point advantage over Chapman in the race for the $1 million annuity. The tournament winner will get 880 points, with players receiving a point for every $500 they earn in the $2.5 million event.
Langer and Lehman would win the season title with a victory, while Chapman needs a victory and some help to top the standings.
"Obviously, in the back of your head, there is always, 'What does everyone else do?'" Langer said. "But I can't control any of the other players."
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