It may have been too little too late, but Russ Cochran took more than a mediocre paycheck away from the Encompass Championship on Sunday.
The left-handed golfer claimed the tournament 18-hole record with an 8-under-par 64. The previous low round in the Champions Tour event was 65 posted by 2013 champion Craig Stadler and Bob Tway last year. Tom Lehman matched it in this year’s first round on Friday.
Cochran caught fire after two lackluster 1-under-par 71 rounds on Friday and Saturday. His round was still shy of the North Shore overall record – a 61 by Luke Donald, who played the course frequently while a student at Northwestern – but it enabled Cochran to climb 34 places and finished in a tie for sixth place.
“I was streaky the first two days, but then just made a point of getting my weight on my toes and getting down to the ball,’’ said Cochran. “It sounds simple, but it seemed to do the trick.’’
Cochran was 11 strokes behind leader Lehman at the start of the final round, and that was too much ground to make up. Cochran made birdie at No. 1, however, and then rolled in an 18-foot eagle putt at the 515-yard sixth after hitting the green with a 2-hybrid second shot.
A bogey on the next hole slowed Cochran momentarily, but he strung five birdies in a row on the back nine and holed his longest putt of the day, 22 feet, for par at No. 18 after an errant drive wound up in the right rough.
Cochran drew one of the tourney’s 10 celebrities, Northwestern basketball coach Chris Collins, as his pro-am partner in the two-man team competition. He didn’t blame Collins for his shaky first two rounds in the tournament within the main tournament.
“I owe D.A. Weibring (a Champions Tour player who didn’t compete at North Shore) the biggest steak he could ever eat,’’ said Cochran, “because I think he had something to do with that pairing. I’ve been a big fan of his and his dad (one-time Bulls’ coach Doug Collins). What a wonderful guy he is.’’
The amateurs weren’t part of the final round and the course played differently than the first two days after torrential rains caused a suspension in play on Saturday.
“The course was soft, so it was easier to hit the fairways, but it played longer, too,’’ said Cochran. “It’s a really good golf course.’’
Cochran believes at least one other Chicago course is really good, too. His biggest win on the PGA Tour was in the 1991 Western Open at Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course in Lemont. The course hosted the PGA Tour for the next 19 years before the Western Golf Assn. went in a different direction. The tourney, now called the BMW Championship, is held out of Chicago every other year and the home layout is Conway Farms in Lake Forest.
Cog Hill is no longer in the rotation. A controversial renovation by architect Rees Jones was blasted by the players, and that was a factor in the WGA’s change in policy.
“I’m upset about that, I really am,’’ said Cochran. “I don’t know the mentality on the (PGA) Tour anymore, but that was one of the most beautiful courses on tour. It took a little rap, but it’s still a wonderful track. You’ve got to blame the architect. He messed up, and that’s a shame.’’