Cochran opens Champions season with 62 to lead by two at Mitsubishi

russ cochran
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By
Jaymes Song
Associated Press

Series:

Russ Cochran went 19 years, 2 months, 5 days between wins.

He finally hoisted a trophy last September in South Korea, and went on to win the next event in North Carolina. He's not willing to wait around to add to his collection.

2011 MITSUBISHI ELECTRIC CHAMPIONSHIP

The Mitsubishi Electric Championship is the first event on the 2011 Champions Tour schedule.

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Cochran had two eagles and six birdies in a career-best 10-under 62 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the Champions Tour's season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship.

The 52-year-old left-hander was near-perfect in his bogey-free round on a defenseless day at Hualalai. He had a two-stroke lead over defending champion Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw.

"I was fairly much in control all day," said Cochran, one of six players making their first Mitsubishi appearance.

With son Ryan on the bag, Cochran missed just one green in regulation. After making the turn in 32, Cochran had two eagles and two birdies in the next six holes to shoot atop the leaderboard.

On the 566-yard 10th, Cochran split the fairway with his drive downhill, then hit a 4-iron to 5 feet for eagle. He took the outright lead at 9 under four holes later, sinking a 20-foot eagle putt after a strong hybrid approach.

Cochran's 6-foot birdie putt on No. 15 gave him a two-stroke lead over the Hall of Fame duo Watson and Crenshaw, who were already in the clubhouse. Cochran had birdie putts on the last three holes, but couldn't add to his lead.

Cochran said he was surprised at the "continuity" in his round. In the offseason, he bought a home near Jupiter, Fla., which allowed him to practice more and focus on golf.

"I'm a little further along than I would be if I was in Kentucky, for sure," he said. "I think that helped a lot."

After going nearly two decades on the PGA Tour without touching a trophy, Cochran last year won the Posco E&C Songdo Championship and SAS Championship in consecutive starts in September and had 11 top-10 finishes. He ended up fourth on the money list with nearly $1.8 million.

The Kentucky native's lone PGA Tour victory was at the 1991 Western Open.

"There's a certain part of you that says, 'I felt like I didn't win enough and didn't play well enough in my career on tour,'" Cochran said. "And if I get that opportunity again, I'm certainly going to dig in and play as hard as I can.

"That's all it is. There's no big secrets or anything."

He also got a pep talk from his children.

"For me, my kids had more confidence in me than I had in myself," he said.

Like Cochran, the 61-year-old Watson also made his move on the back nine.

After a two-birdie front nine he described as, "nothing very special." He made the turn and birdied six of the first seven holes. He stuck an 8-iron, setting up a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 16 that gave him a share of the early lead with Crenshaw.

With humpback whales jumping in the ocean behind him, Watson tapped in for par on Nos. 17 and 18, lipping out a 4-footer on the final hole.

The 61-year-old Watson owns a home at Hualalai, where he has spent the last three weeks preparing for the season. Last year, he birdied the final two holes last year to beat senior newcomer Fred Couples.

Crenshaw, meanwhile, is still chasing his first trophy on the Champions Tour where he playing in his 167th event. The two-time Masters winner, who turned 59 this month, matched his career low on the 50-and-over circuit with his 64 and chipped in for eagle on No. 4 from 55 feet.

"I've had my chances to win the Champions Tour. I don't blame anyone but myself," he said. "It's certainly not for the lack of playing. I'm amazed at how well these fellows can play."

Conditions were ideal for low scores at the 7,107-yard Hualalai only the slightest of breezes and mostly cloudy skies to protect the players from the sun. The Jack Nicklaus-designed layout, featuring wide-open fairways and perfectly manicured greens, has historically been the easiest on Champions Tour.

Bernhard Langer, the three-time defending player of the year and the 2009 champion, opened with a 65 to match Jeff Sluman and Mark McNulty.

McNulty is playing in his first official event since having right knee replacement surgery in May.

Tom Lehman, Mark O'Meara and John Cook shot 66s.

This year's record field of 42 has accounted for 308 PGA Tour titles, including 31 majors. The players include seven members of the World Golf Hall of Fame.