Champions Tour Alive and Vibrant

By George WhiteOctober 31, 2003, 5:00 pm
The Champions Tour is a tour in flux, what with the older men gracefully bowing out, the newcomers coming on in a hurry, and some doggedly defying the odds by continuing their winning ways. And 2003 exemplified that in multiples.
Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Isao Aoki, Raymond Floyd the time has come to cut back on the Champions Tour schedule. Poised to take their place are Craig Stadler, Wayne Levi, D.A. Weibring and Morris Hatalsky. And ignoring their advancing age, still golfing to a standard reserved only for champions, are names like Hale Irwin, Tom Watson, Jim Thorpe, Bruce Fleisher, Allen Doyle, Larry Nelson and Gil Morgan.
It took 16 events this year before the Champions Tour had its first repeat winner. Names like Dana Quigley, Dave Barr, Vicente Fernandez and David Eger jumped out to wins early, followed by Tom Purtzer, Rodger Davis, Bob Gilder, Tom Jenkins, Jay Sigel, Jim Ahern and Doug Tewell. Not until Bruce Lietzke won the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, then the U.S. Senior Open, did a player win two events this year.
Obviously, from a competitive standpoint, it's been really an unbelievable year, said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. Twenty-five different winners in 30 weeks - just a very balanced amount of competition. Each week we seem to have a different mix of players in the hunt. It's a tremendously competitive tour again, which is terrific.
Once Lietzke won the sixth and seventh victories of his young Champions Tour career ' and his first and second this year - the floodgates broke and multiple winners became a little more common. Watson won two majors the second half of the season ' the British Senior Open (a major for the first time) and the JELD-WEN Tradition. Stadler made a grand entrance to the tour, winning his third time out, winning on the regular tour, then coming back two more times. Included in his three Champions Tour victories was a major ' the Ford Senior Players Championship.
There wasnt any adjustment at all for The Walrus.
You're basically starting Thursday or Friday morning, doing the same thing you've been doing for 30 years, said Stadler. Just different players in the field, but, you know, same guys I played with for 20 and over 30 years.
The only thing you might want to call an adjustment is the fact that I've never seen any golf courses, and obviously the first year you don't. But, we do that every week, and one or two practice rounds, you pretty much know what you've got.
Jim Thorpe got into the multiples act, winning the Long Island Classic and the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
Thorpe studied a frequent playing partner, Tom Kite. Kite didnt win a tournament this year, yet played consistently enough to be No. 6 on the money list.
Tom has been a consistent player throughout his entire career, said Thorpe. At this particular point, his putting is a little suspect. But we have a good break - actually we have two breaks. One break that Tom Watson only plays 12 or 14 times, and another break is that Tom Kite is a little weak with the putter right now. We all go through it. I think these two players would absolutely dominate. Between Watson, Kite, and Irwin, you can probably add Morgan and Nelson in that crew.
I think these guys would dominate if things went their way. If Tom Kite was just a mediocre putter, if he putted 29, 30 putts per round, and Tom Watson isn't playing that much anymore, so we have another break there, he's going to play 14 events. He played 14 events and he leads the money list.
The Golf Channel has an increased role in the Champions Tour next year, becoming its exclusive cable home. Commissioner Finchem duly noted that during a speech at the Schwab Cup.
I must say that the Golf Channel people have done a terrific job, and especially on the promotion side, as they get ready to take over full production next year, said Finchem. But the promotion this year has been, we think, very, very good indeed. Thus we think we're well positioned to take off next year.
Irwin, injured much of the year with a problem back, won two times this season. At 58 years old, he increased his Champions Tour record to 38 victories, the ninth consecutive season that he has won at least twice. Some say he is playing even better than when he was on the regular tour. That is definitely possible, says Tom Jenkins.
All of a sudden, there wasn't a distraction about having to make a cut, explained Jenkins. And I think that's probably the biggest difference in players that had decent careers on the regular tour. You know, the cut was a major, a major thing on Fridays out there.
For some reason I never got over that. I was always concerned about the cuts. And now all of a sudden you don't have a cut, you go out and play, and mentally it made it so much easier and I think those three things alone, if you had any game at all and you work at it, you should be able to succeed out here.
Kite, for one, says the some facets of his game are definitely better than were on the regular tour, while some may not be so good.
I wish that I had the golf swing 25 years ago that I have right now, said Kite. I wish I had the conditioning 25 years ago that I have now. I think I would have won a lot more tournaments.
Obviously, I did a lot of great things with the short game back then that really carried me and saved me an awful lot from my wedges and my chipping, my bunker play and putting. That part of the game is not as sharp as what it used to be.
The Champions Tour should be just as impressive in 2004. Sam Torrance comes from Scotland to try to qualify. Jay Haas and Peter Jacobsen both will turn 50, as will Keith Fergus, Mike Reid, Ron Streck and John Adams.
Getty Images

Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

Getty Images

Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."

Getty Images

Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

Getty Images

Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''