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Champions Tour Report Cards

Champions Tour
Birdies, Pars and Bogeys ' thats how were rating performances this year on the Champions Tour.

If eagles were permissible, Hale Irwin would receive one. At 57 years of age he had one of finest seasons ever. He won four times; earned 14 top-3 finishes in 27 starts; became the first player in tour history to surpass the $3 million mark in a single season ($3,028,304); and captured the Charles Schwab Cup, which is points-based on seasonal performance.
He tied a tour record by winning the money title for the third time (1997, '98).
He also led the tour in scoring average, at 68.93; was tops in putting; and averaged more birdies per round than anyone else.
The one thing Irwin didnt achieve in 2002 was a major championship. Winning a major is a sure-fire way to gain Birdie status. Jim Thorpe (Tradition), Don Pooley (U.S. Senior Open), Stewart Ginn (Ford Senior Players) and Fuzzy Zoeller (Senior PGA) made it a clean sweep for first-time major winners this season.
Zoeller's victory was his first since the 1986 Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic -- a span of 15 years, 10 months, 27 days. Pooley's win was the his first in 15 years and one month.
Morris Hatalsky also snapped a lengthy drought (12 years, one month, 19 days) by winning the Uniting Fore Care Classic. Hatalsky, Zoeller and James Mason were the only rookies to win on tour this season.
Mason captured the NFL Golf Classic as a qualifier.
The 2001 Rookie of the Year had a stellar sophomore season. Bob Gilder doubled his win total from a year ago, and earned nearly $700,000 more in 2002.
The 51-year-old Oregonian tied Irwin for the most victories this season, finishing second to the champion of Champions on the money list. He twice won in back-to-back starts. Three of those titles were garnered in playoffs.
A final Birdie goes to Commissioner Tim Finchem and staff, who changed the unfavorably connotative Senior Tour to the more appropriate Champions Tour.

Tom Kite won a career-best three times this year, earned over $1.6 million, and finished fourth on the money list. Tom Watson, winner of the Senior Tour Championship, had 10 top-10s in 14 starts, made over $1.5 million, and finished eighth in earnings.
But neither won a major. And for two players of their caliber, thats the difference between a good season and a great one.
Kite, the 2000 Tradition winner, led the tour in greens hit in regulation. He was also first in the All-Around category and third in scoring.
Watson, last years Senior PGA Champion, was second in scoring, second in All-Around and second in greens in regulation. Second was a familiar place for the eight-time PGA Tour major winner.
He finished runner-up five times this year, including a playoff loss to Pooley in the U.S. Senior Open.
Similarly, Bruce Fleisher had four second-place finishes compared to one win. He saw his victory total drop for the third straight season. He won seven times in 1999, four times in 2000 and three times in 2001.
The 54-year-old endured a miserable summer. Having won last years Senior Open, Fleisher was awarded a spot in this years U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park. However, he declined the invitation, saying the 7,214-yard Black Course was too much for his game.
That decision brought forth a bevy of negative criticism from the likes of Irwin and Kite, who both competed at Bethpage - and both badly missed the cut.
Fleisher also dealt with the possibility of having prostate cancer while trying to defend his Senior Open title. He missed the cut, but future tests showed that there was no sign of cancer.
His professional season was salvaged in the RJR Championship; where he opened in 10-under 60 en route to his only win of the year.
Gil Morgan was Irwins chief rival when the two first joined the tour in the late 90s. Morgan wasnt able to match his former adversarys numbers this season, but he did extend his winning streak on tour to seven consecutive years with at least one title. He also surpassed the $1 million mark for the sixth straight year. Not bad for a 56-year-old optometrist.

Allen Doyle enjoyed a dream season a year ago. He posted two victories, including a major. He won Player of the Year honors and the Charles Schwab Cup. He also finished second on the money list with over $2.5 million.
This year wasnt exactly a nightmare, but more like a state of slumber from which he couldnt awake.
Doyle, who finished inside the top-3 10 times in 2001, did so only three times this season ' and none of those culminated in a win.
It marked the first time since he joined the tour full time, in 1999, that he failed to claim victory. He also finished a disappointing 12th in earnings.
Larry Nelson had his share of frustrations, as well. After winning 11 times over the past two years, he posted a bagel in 2002. The 55-year-old also finished outside the top-4 (18th) on the money list for the first time since his first full year, in 1998.
Bogeys werent exclusive to established tour members. Rookies Ben Crenshaw and Mark McCumber also received the dubious dropped shot.
Crenshaw, who gained entry into the World Golf Hall of Fame this year, made 20 starts on the 50-and-over circuit and had one top-10. He ended 71st in earnings.
McCumber had 17 starts, also with a single top-10 finish, and was 74th on the money list.