The Champions Tour Year in Review

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Champions TourThe Champions Tour constantly re-invents itself.
 
The strength of the circuit is rooted in the turnaround year to year. Once a former world-class player hits the magical 50th birthday, any thoughts of a mid-life crisis should be immediately abandoned.
 
The Champions Tour is the ultimate mulligan. Most players lose some zip on their fastball in their late-40s, but once you hit the elder circuit, your fastball looks good again.
 
This year saw the debuts of Mark O'Meara (two majors), Nick Price (three majors), Nick Faldo (six majors) and Bernhard Langer (two majors). Star power returned to the Champions Tour and it was quite a season.
 
No matter the success of the newbies (they had plenty), the year was won out by a runner-up in '06.
 
PLAYER OF THE YEAR - Finally his turn.
In 2006, Loren Roberts, dubbed the 'Boss of the Moss,' presumably for his putting acumen and not his knack for landscaping, missed a four-foot putt on the 72nd hole of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
 
Happens all the time in golf, right? True. But that putt cost Roberts the year-long Charles Schwab Cup points race and the $1 million annuity that comes with the title.
 
Roberts was not to be denied in 2007.
 
He is the choice for Player of the Year based not only on winning the year- long points title, but for remarkably consistent effort throughout the 2007 season.
 
Roberts collected his first win of the campaign at the Boeing Championship at Sandestin in early June. He added another major title, cruising to the Senior Players Championship.
 
Two wins in a year might not seem great. Truth is, Jay Haas won four times, but Roberts gets the nod for two reasons. The first is the fact that Roberts took a major title, but the other factor has to do with consistency.
 
Roberts did not win til early June, but before that, Roberts did not finish outside the top 16 all year. That spanned 11 tournaments where Roberts was somewhat in contention.
 
Throughout the year, Roberts had two finishes outside the top 20. While he only tied for 13th at the season finale, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, it was enough to hold off Haas for the $1 million annuity.
 
He led the Champions Tour in scoring, birdie and putting averages. Roberts finished second in money and sand saves and seventh in greens in regulation.
 
It's not always about the money and wins. When you have a season so strong from beginning to end, that gets you Player of the Year honors.
 
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR - Not according to the script.
In the biggest tournament on the Champions Tour schedule, the stage was set for one of brightest stars to walk off with another USGA trophy.
 
Tom Watson seemed to have the U.S. Senior Open Championship wrapped up on Sunday afternoon. In searing heat and heavy wind at Whistling Straits, Watson reached nine-under par with a birdie at the 10th.
 
Funny thing happened from there.
 
Brad Bryant, 'Dr. Dirt' as he's known by his peers, birdied the par-five 11th to get to seven-under par. Watson dropped six strokes over the next five holes to basically hand Bryant his first major title.
 
Bryant notched the second biggest final-round comeback in U.S. Senior Open history. Allen Doyle closed with an eight-under 63 in 2005 to overtake D.A. Weibring and Roberts for a one-stroke win.
 
Bryant was justifiably emotional after the win, by far his biggest in a lifetime of toiling in anonymity and...'dirt.'
 
'Dreams do come true. Thirty-five years ago standing on a practice putting green I dreamed about hitting that putt and winning the U.S. Open as a kid,' said Bryant. 'Miracles happen.'
 
SHOT OF THE YEAR - A three beats seven.
At the Boeing Classic, Denis Watson, Craig Stadler, R.W. Eaks, Gil Morgan, Joe Ozaki, Dana Quigley and David Eger all walked down the 18th fairway in the largest playoff in Champions Tour history.
 
'We've done it back home, but we all had a few beers,' joked Eaks. 'That was fun.'
 
It was more fun for Watson. He drained an 18-foot eagle putt that ended the historic extra session.
 
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - Still a winner with the boys.
In the Tiger Woods era of golf, physical fitness has become mandatory. It's protein shakes now, not Miller Lites after a round, and the older players are getting on board.
 
A direct result has been that golfers don't immediately flock to the Champions Tour after blowing out 50 candles. They can still compete on both the PGA and Champions Tours.
 
No one did it better than Fred Funk.
 
Technically a rookie on the 50-and-over tour in 2006, Funk dominated the second tournament on the schedule, the Turtle Bay Championship. He finished at 23-under par and won by 11, a Champions Tour record for largest margin of victory.
 
Less than a month later, Funk captured the inaugural Mayakoba Golf Classic on the PGA Tour. He only posted one additional top 10 on the PGA Tour, but was consistently strong on the Champions Tour.
 
In 10 starts on the elder circuit, Funk only finished outside the top 25 once and that was the season-opening MasterCard Championship. Funk tied for second at the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship to boot.
 
GOOD YEAR
Jay Haas - Four wins, a money title and second on the Charles Schwab Cup standings should have gotten him Player of the Year. Unfortunately, no majors and no visits to the winner's circle in June just qualified him for Good Year status.
 
Brad Bryant - In addition to the U.S. Senior Open Championship, Bryant won the Regions Charity Classic. Came in third on money list and fourth in Schwab Cup, plus how can a guy named 'Dr. Dirt' not be having a Good Year?
 
R.W. Eaks - Basically a journeyman on the PGA and Nationwide Tours, Eaks won twice in 2007.
 
Denis Watson - Two wins and a major shows the Zimbabwe native can give the other Watson (Tom, who married Denis' ex-wife), a run for his money.
 
Ben Crenshaw - Gentle Ben still has not won since his emotional 1995 Masters, but at least this year it looked like he might have a chance. Took second at U.S. Senior Open and posted four top 10s for his best season on the Champions Tour.
 
BAD YEAR
Craig Stadler - Once the dominant player on the Champions Tour, Stadler has not won since the 2004 SAS Championship. Only posted four top 10s in the 2007 season.
 
Nick Price - His first dip in the Champions Tour pool only netted two top 10s. He took third at the Senior PGA Championship, but much more was expected from the three-time major winner.
 
Allen Doyle - He went into the U.S. Senior Championship as the two-time defending champion, but missed the cut in 2007. Had four top 10s early on, but did not record another after the second week of March.
 
Larry Nelson - Time might be up on his Champions Tour career. A 19-time winner on the senior circuit, Nelson's best finish this year was an 11th at the U.S. Senior Open. He dipped to 74th on the money list.
 
Jeff Sluman - Hard to get on a guy who made five starts on the tour, but Sluman failed to crack the top 10. Sluman failed to make a mark on the PGA Tour either and perhaps his biggest moment of the year was being vice-captain to Jack Nicklaus for the victorious American Presidents Cup team.
 
Boonchu Ruangkit - The medalist from Q School finished 72nd on the money list. Ruangkit took sixth at the Dick's Sporting Goods Open, but was otherwise a non-factor.
 
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