Irwin Stays Strong Stadler Breaks Out

By Sports NetworkNovember 30, 2004, 5:00 pm
Champions TourWhile celebration for the 25th anniversary of the Champions Tour got underway late in the season, it was old reliable, Hale Irwin, reminding us why he owns the Champions Tour record for wins. As good as Irwin was in winning the season-long Charles Schwab Cup competition, he fell just short in the player of the year race.
With five victories, including three in a row at one point, 'The Walrus' Craig Stadler garnered player of the year honors. He won early, The Ace Group Classic, the season's second event, and often.
Starting at the season's final major, Stadler won The Tradition and picked up titles at the next two tour stops, The First Tee Open and SAS Championship. His other win came in late June at the Bank of America Championship.
To go along with the five wins, Stadler collected nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 21 starts. That consistently solid play helped him out-distance Hale Irwin for the money title.
Stadler, whose son Kevin won twice on the Nationwide Tour this year, also made the cut in four of six PGA Tour events he played in this season.
For The Walrus, his solid play started on the tee where he finished seventh in driving distance and tied for second in total driving. After finding just over 70 percent of his fairways, Stadler finished fourth in greens in regulation at just under 74 percent, while also leading the tour in eagles.
Stadler finished in the top-30 in 20-of-21 events with his worst finish a tie for 42nd at the Bruno's Memorial Classic. There he finished the event at plus- one, the only event he finished over par the entire season. He bounced back from that poor showing with seven straight top-20 finishes, including three top-three showings.
In two short seasons on the over-50 circuit, Stadler has gathered eight wins. The win at The Tradition was Stadler's second major win on the Champions Tour, to go along with a victory at the 2003 Ford Senior Players Championship.
Mark McNulty picked up three titles in the 2004 season, second most behind Stadler, and in doing so gained rookie of the year honors.
McNulty won in his first Champions Tour start at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-AM and then closed the season with a flourish by winning the year's final two events, the SBC Championship and the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
The Zimbabwean finished in the top-10 seven times en route to earning $1,423,047 and coming in seventh on the money list.
McNulty was the first international player since David Graham in 1997 to win three times in one year. With his win at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, he became the fifth rookie to title at the season-ending event.
McNulty finished sixth in putting average. That outstanding putting helped him finish fifth on the Champions Tour in scoring average.
The majors always seem to bring out the best in players, Witness tour rookie Pete Oakley holding off two players to win the Senior British Open.
However, the best battle of the season came at the U.S. Senior Open. Another circuit rookie, Peter Jacobsen, posted a final-round 68 to win by one stroke. Hale Irwin finished one stroke behind the eventual champion.
What made the race to this crown even more dramatic was that the final day featured 36 holes after bad weather forced the cancellation of play on Friday.
The win for Jacobsen was his first major and his first win on the Champions Tour. He had battled back from hip surgery earlier in the year that forced him to miss several events. Jacobsen finished the season having played in just nine tournaments.
Jacobsen was fortunate with his steady play. Tom Kite finished two strokes off the pace after stumbling to two bogeys and a double-bogey over his final four holes.
Kite held the lead entering the final round after a third-round 65, but Jacobsen quickly got back into the tournament with two early birdies in the final round. Jacobsen picked up three birdies in a five-hole stretch to join Kite in the lead. Jacobsen parred the last for the one-shot win after Kite dropped off the pace.
At 59, most golfers would be heading towards the twilight of their careers. For Hale Irwin, nothing could be further from the truth.
Irwin collected two wins among his 14 top-10 finishes in 2004. The two wins gave Irwin a record 10 consecutive years with multiple wins. Irwin was no slouch on the PGA Tour winning 20 times. With his two titles this season, Irwin has doubled the total with 40 Champions Tour crowns.
Irwin's 40 wins are the most in Champions Tour history, 11 more than Lee Trevino's 29. Irwin also is far and away the tour's all-time leading money earner, having earned $26,558,996 in 10 years. Gil Morgan, who has at least one win in nine straight years on the senior circuit, is second behind Irwin with $19,578,415 in his nine years on tour.
In baseball, it was Lou Gehrig before Cal Ripken, Jr. came along. In world of golf, Mike McCullough formerly owned the ironman streak.
McCullough ran off 177 consecutive starts for which he was eligible. Enter Dana Quigley. Quigley's streak now stands at 262 consecutive tournaments that he has been eligible for and 248 straight overall.
Quigley owns eight wins during the run and he finished in the top-25 in 20 of 30 tournaments this year.
Hale Irwin is just one of many players making waves in the latter portions of their career. In 2004, 13 of the 30 winners were 55-years-old or older.
The over-60 crowd were pretty solid themselves. Sixty-year-old Bruce Summerhays picked up his third Champions Tour title at the Kroger Classic. That win snapped a streak of 209 straight starts without a win. He became the 13th player in tour history over the age of 60 to win.
There were six different players who shot their age or better. And if that wasn't good enough for you, eight of the 15 holes-in-one this year were fired by players 60 or older.
Two of the most well-traveled golfers, Bob Charles and Gary Player, showed they still have something left in the tank. The 68-year-old Charles became the oldest player since 69-year-old Joe Jimenez to register a top-10 finish when he tied for 10th at the Greater Hickory Classic. Player, who turned 69 on November 1, posted a 66 in the final round of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am.
Bruce Fleisher posted wins at the Royal Caribbean Golf Classic and Bruno's Memorial Classic among his seven top-five finishes on the season. He also finished fifth on the money list.
Larry Nelson was also a two-time winner this season, including a playoff win at the Administaff Small Business. He wielded a hot putter all season as he finished second on tour with a 1.747 putts-per-round average. He finished in the top-10 in seven different categories, including putts per round and total driving.
Tom Kite won the 3M Championship and finished in the top-three five other times. Kite had a stellar season in the majors finishing tied for seventh at the Ford Senior Players Championship, tied for second at the Senior British Open, tied for third at the U.S. Senior Open and joint fourth at The Tradition. His lone non-top-10 finish was at the Senior PGA Championship, where he shared 21st place.
Tom Watson had a tough year all around. The first day of The Masters he lost longtime friend and caddy Bruce Edwards to ALS. Overall, he did manage five top-10 finishes in 12 starts, but his season came to an early end as he battled hip and shoulder problems all season. Since he only competed in 12 events, Watson managed to finish just 42nd on the money list.
Dave Eichelberger, a six-time winner on the Champions Tour, managed only two top-10 finishes in 25 starts in 2004. The 1999 U.S. Senior Open winner skipped the Senior British Open and finished no better than a tie for 19th in the other four majors.
Sam Torrance, the 2002 European Ryder Cup captain and owner of 31 international wins, jumped to the U.S. to play on the Champions Tour late in the 2003 season. In his first full season on the tour, Torrance finished in the top-25 just five times in 14 starts with his best finish being a tie for seventh at The MasterCard Classic. By mid-season, he had given up playing full-time on the Champions Tour and moved back to Europe to play on the senior circuit there.
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