Golf / Sports

Lehman wins Encompass Championship

CHICAGO -- Over dinner and laughs Saturday at Cafe Lucci in Glenview, Ill., Michael Allen tried to get Tom Lehman to let his guard down.

"Have another beer," Allen told him.

But the main of faith and family would not cave.

"He's too disciplined," Allen said Sunday afternoon in both praise and mock frustration.

Lehman was the picture of tranquility most of the week, playing 48 bogey-free holes to start the Encompass Championship. But after flubbing the 13th and 14th holes Sunday to surrender the lead in the Champions Tour event, he needed a fantastic finish to triumph at North Shore Country Club.

After telling caddie Andy Martinez, "Let's play the best four holes of the week," Lehman finished birdie-birdie-par-birdie, draining a 12-footer on 18 to beat Kirk Triplett and dinner companion Allen by one.

Lehman, dogged recently by poor putting, reacted by dropping his putter and throwing his hands into the air.

"I had the perfect line," he said of the left-to-right putt. "Speed was maybe a little lacking, but it just crept up there and dropped. It's always nice to make a birdie. But when you have to make a birdie ... there's no feeling quite like that."

Spectators surrounding the 18th green were treated to their second straight spectacular finish. Craig Stadler made a similar 12-footer last year to win by a shot.

Lehman's back-to-back bogeys led to a four-way tie at the top with Triplett, Allen and Doug Garwood, who eagled the 16th with a 35-footer.

Knowing he needed a birdie on 18, Allen hit his 149-yard approach to four inches to come home at 14 under. Triplett narrowly missed a downhill 16-footer, also finishing at 14 under.

Lehman's uphill putt gave him rounds of 65-66-70, a 15-under total.

"I was nervous because I've been so erratic with the putter," he said. "It's a boost to my confidence to step up and make that putt."

The 2015 Encompass Championship will return to North Shore, with dates to be determined. That reminder brought a smile to Lehman's face.

The Minnesota native and 1996 British Open champion took third here last year.

"I love the area, love the people," he said. "I'm a Midwestern guy. So it's like being at home."

For the record: The highlight of Russ Cochran's PGA Tour career came in 1991, when he won the Western Open at Cog Hill. One of the highlights of his Champions Tour career came Sunday, when he set the North Shore Country Club tournament record by firing an 8-under 64.

"This place has been good to me," the 55-year-old Kentucky native said of Chicago.

With son Ryan on the bag, Cochran made an eagle on the par-5 No. 6 (2-hybrid to 18 feet) plus seven birdies and a bogey. But his best putt saved par -- a 22-footer on the 18th green.

"That really made my round," he said.

Last fall the lefty returned to Cog Hill to practice and reminisce with old friends. He called it "an awesome place" and blames Rees Jones for a $5.2 million redesign that was intended to attract a U.S. Open. Instead Cog Hill lost the PGA Tour event.

"I'm upset about it," Cochran said. "I kind of blame it on the architect. He blames it on the tour setup, but that's not the case. ... For amateurs, it's still got the same feel. An awesome place."

Tap-ins: Hale Irwin matched his age Sunday, shooting a 3-under 69. ... Cochran said he'd buy D.A. Weibring "the biggest steak he can eat" after Weibring missed the event with an injury, allowing Cochran to play the two-day pro-am with Chris Collins. "A selfless guy who did everything to try to help me," Cochran said of the Northwestern basketball coach. ... Former world No. 1 Luke Donald, a North Shore member, still holds the overall course record at 61.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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