- Associated Press - Thursday, October 11, 2012

CONOVER, N.C. (AP) - The first impression Tom Lehman had of the Greater Hickory Classic course came from looking at past tournament scores.

The 53-year-old thought it was an easy course.

Then after he played his first practice round earlier this week on the course designed by Robert Trent Jones, the former British Open champion quickly changed his mind.

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“I was seeing a bunch of low scores here, so I figured this course must be easy,” Lehman, who has four PGA Tour victories in addition to his 1996 British Open title, said Thursday. “But I’ve found the last two days that it’s anything but easy. It’s playing fairly long and the greens are really fast. The other players are saying the greens are the fastest they’ve ever seen them play.

“It’s quite a test. … I like it. To say I’m impressed is a real understatement.”

Lehman enters this week’s PGA Champions Tour event, which begins Friday, trailing Bernhard Langer by 69 points in the Charles Schwab Cup standings.

Langer, 55, took over the points lead after rallying from six strokes down to win last week’s Champions Tour event in Cary, N.C., ending Lehman’s eight-week run as the leader.

“I’ve actually played very solid throughout the whole year,” said Langer, a two-time Masters champion who has 16 career victories on the 50-and-over tour. “I’ve been very consistent; it’s probably been one of my most consistent years.”

Both players are looking to win the Charles Schwab Cup and its $1 million annuity for the second time in their careers. Lehman is the defending champion and could become the first player to win the title in back-to-back years, while Langer won the prize in 2010.

However, with just two tournaments remaining _ in San Antonio in two weeks, followed by the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Scottsdale, Ariz., Nov. 1-4 _ after the Greater Hickory Classic, a bad weekend here could let Lehman close in or Langer pull further ahead.

“There isn’t any way you can lock it up, no matter who you are,” said Lehman, who has one win (at Shoal Creek, Ala., in June) and 10 top 10s in 16 events this season. “But you can certainly do yourself a favor by playing well.”

Both players head into this weekend’s tournament on a roll. In addition to winning twice, Langer has finished in the top 10 in 11 of his last 12 starts, while Lehman has seven top 10s in his last eight tournaments.

“I’m not afraid of” a letdown, said Langer, who ended a 17-month winless stretch with his victory at Blaine, Minn., in August. “I’m just going to play my own game and hopefully continue to play well. If Tom or somebody else plays that much better, then hats off to them.

“I can’t control anybody else; I’m just trying to play as good as I can, Langer said. He added that if he can play like he did in the final round at Cary, when he shot a 9-under-par 63, “I can compete with anybody at the highest level.”

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