- Bill Fields
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SONOMA, Calif. -- Jay Haas is old school. He grew up near St. Louis listening to his beloved baseball Cardinals on KMOX radio. When he is playing a golf tournament, he believes in keeping track of what other golfers are doing -- and that includes Loren Roberts, who came into this week's Charles Schwab Cup Championship trailing Haas in the season-long competition by only 126 points.
"Somebody asked me if I'm paying attention to what Loren's doing," Haas said Friday at Sonoma Golf Club. "I like to pay attention to what everybody's doing. I like to look at the leaderboard. I hear people say, 'I didn't look at the leaderboard the whole back nine until I got to 18.' I don't necessarily agree with that theory, because there aren't many sports where you don't look at the scoreboard. It dictates what play you might call. I want to see what's happening."
Haas was headed for a room-service dinner Friday night so he could pay attention to every pitch as the Cardinals tried to wrap up a World Series victory over the Detroit Tigers. The Schwab Cup points leader left the course having shot a second-round 66, the same score as Roberts. "I felt like I got back in the tournament," said Roberts, "as long as Mr. [Tom] Kite doesn't keep holing out from the fairway."
Kite, who holed a wedge from the fairway for an eagle on the par-4 11th hole for the second consecutive day (and his third eagle-2 overall in two rounds), has the lead at 9-under 135, but Haas is tied for second with Jim Thorpe at 8-under, with Roberts another stroke back in a tie for fourth with three others. The tightly contested Schwab Cup points race, which awards a $1 million annuity to the winner, isn't any less so after 36 holes in the California sunshine.
Roberts, who wasn't hitting on all cylinders Thursday in shooting a first-round 71, got a swing critique from his instructor Jim Suttie Friday morning that paid dividends as his second round developed. "I figured I needed to shoot at least 4- or 5-under today to get back to where I could do some catching up tomorrow," said Roberts, who finished with three straight birdies en route to a back-nine 31. "[Suttie] called me this morning and gave me a little tip and I finally started getting comfortable with it on the back nine and started hitting a lot of quality shots."
Suttie had spotted a flaw in Roberts' technique while watching the television broadcast Thursday. "I had way too much width in my backswing," Roberts explained. "My right arm was just flying all over the place. I just needed to keep my right elbow down a little bit and not be quite as steep on the downswing."
Not to be outdone, Haas shot a back-nine 30 Friday, but he stopped short of saying Roberts' hot play made him do it. "Because he was shooting well on the back nine doesn't mean, OK, I've got to kick it in gear," said Haas, who tuned up early in the week with instructor Billy Harmon. "If that was the case, and I could turn it on and off, [my career] would have been a lot better than it has been. But yeah, I'm watching."
Roberts has gotten a kick out of the ebb and flow of the points race this year. "Jay is such a great guy," he said. "We've been friends for years and years. He's a true gentleman. It's been fun going back and forth all year. I hope it goes all the way to the last nine holes on Sunday. That would be fun."
Haas is trying to deflect the pressure the best way he can. "To me, both of us are going to win this week," Haas said. "I'll be happy for Loren if he does, and thrilled if I do. But it still is a fantastic year for both of us. This is a mind game I'm playing with myself. I'm downplaying it a little bit. I want to do it, and I'm sure he does, too."
Both players have four victories this season, notwithstanding a poker game to which Roberts invited his rival during the U.S. Senior Open this summer. "He keeps spreading that rumor," joked Roberts. "He showed up and beat us out of $150 the first night, and he won't let me forget it."
The pot is a lot larger this weekend, and the bragging rights will be even bigger still.
"It's going to be a barn burner the next couple of days," said Kite.
Bill Fields is a senior editor for Golf World magazine.