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‘On a mission’ Craig Stadler positioned to end victory drought

Craig Stadler

Craig Stadler

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AT A GLANCE

What: Encompass Championship, PGA
Champions Tour.

When: Tournament ends Sunday.

Where: North Shore Country Club, Glenview. General spectator parking at Old Orchard mall, shuttle to course. Parking and shuttle are complimentary.

TV: 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Golf Channel.

Tickets: $20. No charge for children under 18. For more information, 888-302-5446 or encompasschampionship.com.

You’d never know it by the way he’s playing this weekend. But Craig Stadler, who leads the Encompass Championship after two rounds, will be seeking his first victory since 2004 on Sunday at North Shore Country Club in Glenview.

Does it feel that long?

“A hell of a lot longer, actually,’’ Stadler said after shooting a 7-­under-par 65 on Saturday that put him 12-under after 36 holes in the 54-hole event.

Bob Tway, who also shot 65, is two strokes back at 10-under along with Jeff Sluman (66). David Frost is three back, and Steve Pate, Mark Calcavecchia, Tom Lehman and Bernhard Langer are four back.

“I had some good chances in ’05 and ’06 and ’07, but not since then,’’ said the 1982 Masters champion, who has been shut out since winning seven Champions Tour events in 2003 and 2004.

“At the start of this year, I played horrid, and I haven’t enjoyed it,’’ said Stadler, who turned 60 on June 2. “I’ve been hurt, but no excuses. I’ve just played rotten. Everything got bad, so I just kind of went on a mission a month ago. It was either fix it or I’m going to quit. It’s kind of getting fixed.’’

That’s apparent. Stadler birdied eight holes Saturday, narrowly missing a final 22-foot putt that would have tied the North Shore course record of 64. That came two holes after Stadler came within one foot of acing the 189-yard seventh hole with a 5-iron.

“Everything’s new,’’ said Stadler, who still has the girth and facial hair that earned him his “Walrus” nickname. “I have to think about four, five different thoughts on every shot. I’ve changed the setup, alignment, grip. It’s actually fun.’’

Another key to Stadler’s success was needing only a miniscule 23 putts.

“No matter how you’re playing,’’ he said, “it’s fun to make putts, and I’ve made a boatload of putts.’’

The putt total was aided by holing out a 50-foot sand shot on No. 12: “Just got it up over the lip, trickled down. Trickled right in. Barely.’’

Tway, 54, also put himself in position to end a drought. The 1986 PGA winner hasn’t won on the Champions Tour. His last PGA victory came at the 2003 Canadian Open.

“My game has not been what I think it should be,’’ the Oklahoma native said. “I really still enjoy playing and practicing, but my scoring has not been very good — chipping, putting, wedge play, all the stuff. I just continue to work on it. Today was better.’’

The rave reviews continue to pour in for the layout and conditioning of North Shore, which received about 11/2 inches of rain Friday and early Saturday.

“The course is in unbelievable shape,’’ Tway said. “All this rain, and there wasn’t a speck of mud on any tee shot we had.’’

Stadler likes North Shore and its firm fairways better than Butler National, the former home of the Western Open.

“At Butler, with bluegrass fairways, you’re hitting 8-irons 145 yards and about every fifth hole, it would go about 170,’’ Stadler said. “This is just a wonderful conditioned golf course. It’s probably the best, right there with Augusta, I would say, condition-wise.’’



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