The rain wouldn’t go away, and neither would a couple of Tom Lehman’s challengers.
Lehman withstood both to win his second straight Regions Tradition, finishing the Champions Tour major with a 4-under 68 on Sunday to take a two-stroke victory.
Lehman overcame a near-constant drizzle and occasional heavy rain at Shoal Creek – plus hard charges by Bernhard Langer and Chien Soon Lu – for his sixth Champions Tour victory. He finished at 14-under 274. Langer and Lu shot 66 to tie for second.
Lehman, the former British Open champion who shot in the 60s all four days, joined Jack Nicklaus, Gil Morgan and Fred Funk as the only players to win the Tradition multiple times. Lehman played the final hole with his cap turned backward under a steady rain.
”I don’t mind any condition other than rain,” Lehman said. ”I don’t like playing in rain. It makes me really uncomfortable. I just feel like I lose the rhythm of my swing.
”Today was a real test of perseverance, just trying to move the ball forward. Don’t try to bite off too much, don’t get too aggressive. Just play shots I know I can hit.”
He’s the first player to repeat in a senior major championship since Allen Doyle won the U.S. Senior Open in 2005 and 2006. Gil Morgan in 1997 is the only other Tradition winner to post four rounds in the 60s.
Lehman won $335,000 for his first victory since last year’s Regions Tradition, a 13-month drought. Lehman is the 11th winner of 2012.
After beating Peter Senior in a playoff last year, Lehman didn’t have to sweat this one out nearly as much on a brisk day that began with an early two-tee start and ended with storms closing in. Players were allowed to lift, clean and place the ball because of the conditions.
Lehman made a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 7 after Langer briefly tied him at 9 under, pushing his lead to two strokes with a short birdie putt on the par-3 13th hole. Then he salvaged par with a difficult chip and 12-foot putt on the next hole under a downpour.
”You don’t want to give shots back when you’ve kind of put it in your pocket,” Lehman said. ”It really started pouring and that was a really difficult putt. To two-putt that was a huge momentum keeper. That might have been the biggest putt of the day.”
He bogeyed No. 17, but that added little drama since he avoided trouble on the 18th. The backward-hat wasn’t a fashion statement for his college-student daughters who made the trip.
”I’m sure they thought it was stupid, but you know what?” Lehman said. ”They probably thought I was doing that to be cool or something. The fact of the matter is that when you putt and it’s raining, the water drips off the bill onto the ball. It’s very distracting. The putt that I missed on 17, two drops fell off my hat onto my ball when I was on my backstroke and it really distracted me.”
Lu, from Taiwan, had four birdies on the final nine holes. Lu was second at last year’s Montreal Championship and the 2010 Tradition in Oregon and has been third four times. He had fallen back with a triple bogey on the final hole Saturday.
Langer, a two-time Masters winner, bogeyed Nos. 8 and 9 after starting 3 under through four holes. He wound up with a seventh top-five finish of the year and took over the Schwab Cup lead but is still seeking his first win. He missed several months last year, including this event, after left thumb surgery.
Lehman made too few mistakes to open the door even with that aggressive play.
”My goal was to get off to a good start and put pressure on him, to make him win the tournament and not let him have a three- or four-shot lead the whole day,” said Langer, who hadn’t played at Shoal Creek since the 1990 PGA Championship. ”That would be too easy. … But he responded extremely well to it.”
Fred Couples closed with a tournament-low 65 and entered the final hole with four straight birdies but still finished four strokes back.
Russ Cochran and Bill Glasson, who led after each of the first two rounds, were five shots back. Jeff Sluman and Brad Bryant were six strokes behind. Sluman had eagled the par-5 third for the second straight day to move to 10 under, six of that coming from that hole.