Heading the field is Craig Stadler, who hopes to take advantage of the absences of the top three players in the Charles Schwab Cup points race. Hale Irwin, Mark James and Tom Kite - the top three on the list - have extended their vacations for a second week and have given Stadler a golden opportunity to close the gap in the season long points race.
Stadler, already twice a winner on the Champions Tour in 2004, is having the season most were expecting from the second year player. In 14 events, he has finished outside the top 25 only once and has a runner-up finish and two third place showings to go along with his pair of victories.
And lo and behold, he just also happens to be the defending champion this week at Rock Barn. Last year, Stadler edged out Larry Nelson and Jim Thorpe for what would be one of three titles he collected in his rookie campaign on the senior circuit.
Stadler, in only 14 starts in this season, ranks third on the tour's money list behind Irwin and Gil Morgan. He trails Irwin by approximately $150,000 and with a first-place purse of $240,000 at the Greater Hickory Classic, could take the outright lead in the money race. Stadler wound up 14th on the money list in 2003 after joining the tour midway through the season.
The abovementioned Morgan, who is second on the money list and sixth in the points race, will join Stadler in the Carolinas and will look to add to his win total in 2004. He earlier won the SBC Classic in March. He, like Stadler, has only finished outside the top 25 in just one of the 18 events he's entered.
The Golf Channel will air all three rounds live from 1:30 PM (ET) to 4:00 PM.
The purse for the Greater Hickory Classic, which is in just its second year on the Champions Tour's schedule, is $1,600,000.
Also scheduled to appear are Gary Player, Jim Colbert, Jim Thorpe and Mark Lye.