PGA Tour Champions Q school grad Brian Cooper a shot off lead at Cologuard Classic

TUCSON, Ariz. — Padraig Harrington and Steven Alker made all the headlines the last time the PGA Tour Champions visited Arizona.

Harrington won the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Phoenix Country Club, while Alker claimed his first season-long points title.

Fast forward the calendar three months and neither golfer is in the field this week at the Cologuard Classic. Champions tour stalwarts Steve Stricker (2-under 70), Miguel Angel Jimenez (2-under 70) and Bernhard Langer (even par 72) were well off the pace after 18 holes.

Add it all up and the door is cracked open for others to make a move, including 2022 Champions tour Q school grad Brian Cooper.

Cooper fired a 6-under 66 Friday in his seventh round on the tour this season and 34th round overall. It’s his lowest score to date. He was one of the five survivors of Q school last November and the 55-year-old came into Tucson with rounds of 78-83-77-77-84-83 in his first six outings in 2023.

Some of that he chalked up to his equipment, which he said he takes full responsibility for. He also suffered a pinched nerve in his neck two weeks ago.

So far this week, however, everything is firing on all cylinders.

“Living in Arizona, I mean, this week, playing well this week would really mean a lot,” he said. “I’m going to have family here, friends here. This week would really mean a lot.”

Playing the back nine first, he birdied Nos. 12 and 16 and then eagled the 17th. He had three more birdies on the front nine before closing with three straight pars.

“I think the way I hit it today, it’s kind of indicative of the way I’ve been hitting it and that’s what I expect out of myself. Whether it’s 66 or not, I expect to hit the ball good and give myself opportunities,” Cooper said. “In the first two weeks, honestly, I had zero opportunities. So this is what I expect of myself not only this week but the entire year.”

Cooper is a shot off the lead of Brett Quigley, who had the best round Friday with a 7-under 65, the day after the golf course was blanketed under a thick layer of snow.

“I loved it. I felt like I was a little kid yesterday,” he said. “I hadn’t seen snow in so long. It was a fun morning. The guys building the snowman out there on the driving range and driving in, seeing all that snow, it was like being a kid again.”

2023 Cologuard Classic

Snow covers Tucson National in Arizona on Thursday, March 2, 2023, ahead of the 2023 Cologuard Classic. (Photo: Cologuard Classic)

Brett Quigley was 0-for-his-careeer on the PGA Tour (408 starts) but won his second-ever start on the Champions tour three years ago.

Among the four tied for second with Cooper is John Huston, whose lone Champions win came 12 years ago. He knows it’s too early to start thinking about the winner’s circle just yet.

“I’m too smart for that. I know it’s a long ways to go,” Huston said.

Kirk Triplett also shot a 66. Alex Cejka is solo fifth at 5 under. Tournament ambassador Jerry Kelly, Marco Dawson, Ken Duke, David Toms and Mike Weir are tied for sixth at 5 under after shooting 67s.

John Daly, in the field on a sponsor exemption, shot an 81 and is tied for last with Gary Hallberg.

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