KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii – John Cook birdied five straight holes after the turn to win the Champions Tour’s season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship on Sunday, shooting a second straight 8-under 64 for a two-stroke victory over Tom Lehman.
The 53-year-old Cook had eight birdies in his bogey-free round for a 22-under 194 total and his second straight victory. He finished last season with a successful title defense in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
The last player to win the last and first events on the Champions Tour was Gil Morgan in 1997-98.
After two birdies on the front side, Cook scorched the back nine, dropping putt after putt. He birdied six holes during a seven-hole stretch to take home $305,000 and the hook-shaped trophy.
The win was Cook’s sixth on the 50-and-over circuit and his first in the islands since the 1992 Hawaiian Open.
Cook began the day three strokes behind second-round-leader Russ Cochran and surged to the top of the leaderboard with his five birdies after making the turn by aggressively firing for the pins. The run was capped by a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-5 14th.
After going up-and-down for a rare par on No. 15, he got back to the birdie clinic by sticking his 7-iron shot to 3 feet to reach 22 under at 16. He tapped in for par on 17 and missed a 10-foot birdie try on the final hole.
Lehman, who closed with a 64, had an eagle, eight birdies and two bogeys. Defending champion Tom Watson couldn’t overcome his three bogeys on the front nine and shot a 68 to finish third at 19 under, two strokes ahead of Cochran (72) and Jeff Sluman (68).
At 61, Watson was vying to become the seventh oldest winner on the Champions Tour.
Every one a showdown between Watson and Cochran. But it was Cook taking control.
Cook pumped his fist twice after taking the outright lead for the first time at 18 under by bending in a left-to-right putt from about 30 feet on the par-4 11th where he nearly tumbled into the bunker.
He had an ugly, downslope lie a few inches of the bunker on his second shot. But his sweet putting came to the rescue.
Standing in the shadow of the palm tree, Cook holed a 3½-foot birdie putt to open up a three-stroke lead on 13.
Lehman made a move early with four birdies in the first seven to reach 16 under. He made back-to-back bogeys before the turn, but went birdie-par-birdie-eagle starting on No. 11 to put him back near Cook. Lehman birdied the final two holes to slip into second place.
Players had a third day of low-scoring conditions with just a gentle tradewind to contend with. Hualalai, surrounded by lava rock fields, $5 million homes and humpback whales in the ocean, has historically the been the easiest course on the Champions Tour.