NARITA, Japan – Bernhard Langer didn’t make the trip to Japan for the JAL Championship, the PGA Tour’s first sanctioned event in this island nation. But he’s never far from the mind of Scott McCarron, his closest pursuer on the PGA Tour Champions money list.
McCarron fired his second consecutive 6-under 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the JAL. This will be the third time in the past four tournaments that McCarron will be joined in the final group by Kevin Sutherland. McCarron won the previous two times, at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open and last week’s Shaw Charity Classic. Todd Hamilton, who shot the day’s low round – a 7-under 65 to get to 9 under – will join them in the final group Sunday.
With a win Sunday, McCarron would narrow the gap with Langer to $127,050 in the Schwab Cup standings.
Post-round, McCarron talked about Langer’s success and how it has impacted his preparations.
“Bernhard Langer has kind of been the guy I’ve been looking up to, my idol,” McCarron said. “He’s the guy I’ve been shooting for all year. I saw what he did. I played a lot with him last year, saw how good he was, how he picked apart golf courses, how much he practices, how much he studies. He doesn’t leave a stone unturned.”
That, McCarron said, led him to make some changes to his regimen. He and caddie Rich Mayo started using AimPoint, spending Mondays and Tuesdays gathering data on the slopes of the greens.
“I don’t want to be guessing over putts, I want to know what this really does,” he said.
McCarron also has been training with his wife Jenny, a fitness trainer and triathlete, and working to improve his mobility with trainer Greg McLean from Premier Fitness Systems in Scottsdale, Ariz.
And always, he studies Langer.
“He doesn’t play perfect golf, but he misses shots in the right place,” McCarron said. “He doesn’t ever put himself out of position, so he’s very patient. That’s the thing I learned watching him, how patient he was and he kind of let the tournament come to him.”
Sutherland struck a similar tone after only one birdie through his first 14 holes Saturday.
“I will say one thing, I stayed really patient today,” Sutherland said. “I didn’t get frustrated at all. I wasn’t making any birdies. … Early in the round, I just didn’t let any sort of frustration creep in so it worked out good in the end.”
His payoff was three birdies in the final four holes to get to 11 under, one shot off the lead.
McCarron and Sutherland, who is fifth on the money list, are right where they’re expected to be entering the final round, as is Colin Montgomerie, who got to 9 under with a 66. Other names were more surprising.
Hamilton has had an indifferent season, posting only one top 10 through August. But he finished T-3 last week in Calgary, and hasn’t missed a step since arriving in Japan. He might have struggled in North America, but historically, he’s been a beast in Japan. Hamilton has won 11 times on the Japan Golf Tour, including four times in 2003, his last full season on that tour. That’s more than any of the other Americans in the field.
“I started hitting the ball a little bit better last week,” Hamilton said. “Maybe not great direction-wise all the time, but I started hitting it out of the middle of the club. … That lends itself to good scoring.”
For Jeff Sluman, his problems this season have been on the greens. Last week in Calgary he had what he described as a “horrific” putting round, hitting 17 greens, but requiring 38 putts.
That prompted “a wholesale change” in his putting over the past week – a switch from crosshanded back to a standard grip with a forward press. The early results weren’t promising. He shot 2 under in the opening round at JAL, despite needing 36 putts. But he felt like the changes “freed me up” because of improved alignment. It all clicked over the final four holes, which he birdied to jump up to the first page of the leaderboard at 8 under.