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AT&T Champions Classic: Tournament storylines

Posted: March 9, 2009 1:31 a.m.
Updated: March 8, 2009 11:00 p.m.
Santa Clarita Valley golf fans, local residents and an international entourage of professional golfers and media converge on Valencia Country Club Monday through Sunday for the AT&T Champions Classic Golf tournament.

Here's a roundup of storylines leading up to the week's play:

20th ANNIVERSARY: The Champions Tour stop in Los Angeles celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Only three other events can boast a longer tenure in one metropolitan area (AT&T Championship in San Antonio, ACE Group Classic in Naples, Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am). When Mike Hill edged Gary Player by one stroke at Rancho Park for the first Security Pacific Senior Classic title, he earned a check for $75,000 from the $500,000 purse. This year's winner will take home $240,000 from a total purse of $1.6 million.

WATSON TRIES FOR FIRST TITLE DEFENSE?: Denis Watson will attempt to become the first player since Joe Inman to successfully defend a title at this event. Inman won three straight times in Los Angeles from 1998-2000. Gil Morgan also won back-to-back senior events in Los Angeles in 1996-97 at Wilshire Country Club and added a third title in 2005 at Valencia Country Club, making him the only player to win this tournament at two different venues. Since Inman's victory in 2000, the best finish by a defending champion at this event was when Tom Purtzer was sixth in 2004 after winning the rain-shortened event the year prior. The closest Watson came to defending a title on the PGA TOUR was at the 1985 NEC World Series of Golf when he finished second to Roger Maltbie at Firestone.

CAN LOREN BREAK THROUGH? After playoff losses the last two years, is it Loren Roberts' time to finally breaks through at the AT&T Champions Classic? In 2007, Roberts lost out to Tom Purtzer on the fourth playoff hole when Purtzer made a 17-foot birdie putt. Last year, after holing a chip for eagle on the 54th hole to tie for the lead, Roberts fell to Denis Watson on the third playoff hole when Watson made a short birdie putt. If this is the year for Roberts to win at Valencia, it would also be his first victory in California. A native of San Luis Obispo, Roberts won eight career titles on the PGA TOUR but went winless in his home state, going 0-75 with only seven top-10s (best finish- 3rd in 1985 Isuzu/Andy Williams San Diego Open). On the Champions Tour, Roberts is now 0-12 in California.

IS IT STILL TOM TIME? Either Tom Kite (2002, 2006) or Tom Purtzer (2003, 2007) has won this event four of the last seven years. Should either go on to win at Valencia this year, they would join Joe Inman and Gil Morgan as the only other three-time winners in AT&T Champions Classic history. Perhaps another Tom (Jenkins or McKnight) will win this year.

PURTZER'S SUCCESS AT VALENCIA: Tom Purtzer is not only a two-time winner at Valencia but he's also put together six top-10 finishes in seven appearances in the tournament. He's shot in the 60s in 10 of 20 rounds at Valencia and is a cumulative 34-under-par at this venue. In his seven appearances at this event, Purtzer has averaged earnings of $105,243 per start, easily the best among players making five trips to the tournament.

STRONG FIELD: This year's 79-player field at the AT&T Champions Classic currently features 17 different major champions from the PGA TOUR and 18 players who are winners of senior majors. The field not only includes eight members of the World Golf Hall of Fame (Hubert Green, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Gary Player, Nick Price and Larry Nelson), but also includes eight former Masters champions, six former U.S. Open champions, five past British Open winners and seven past PGA Championship winners.

FORMER WINNERS BACK AT VALENCIA: A total of four past champions have committed to play in this year's AT&T Champions Classic. Gil Morgan (1996, 1997, 2004), Tom Kite (2002, 2006), Tom Purtzer (2003. 2007) will join defending champion Denis Watson in this year's field at Valencia.

MAJOR CHAMPIONS AMONG NEW FACES: The 2009 AT&T Champions Classic receives an added boost as three winners of major championships on the PGA TOUR will be among the new faces in this year's event. Playing at Valenica for the first time as members of the Champions Tour are 1987 Masters winner Larry Mize, 1991 Masters champion Ian Woosnam, Hal Sutton, the 1983 PGA Championship winner and Sandy Lyle, the 1985 British Open and 1988 Masters champion. Also making their first appearances in the AT&T Champions Classic are former PGA TOUR winners Joey Sindelar, Dan Forsman, Ken Green, Blaine McCallister and John Morse. Robert Thompson and Steve Thomas, both veterans of the PGA TOUR, will also play at Valencia for the first time. Five of these players were in the 1998 Nissan Open at Valencia. Sutton finished T13 in the event while Forsman was T29 and McCallister was T74. Lyle and Morse both missed the cut.

BLACK KNIGHT IS BACK: Gary Player, one of only five players in golf history to win all four major championships, is scheduled to appear in this event for the first time since 2002. The 73-year-old World Golf Hall of Fame member has bettered his age four times this year, including doing so three consecutive rounds at the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Champions Tour welcomes a number of former PGA TOUR winners to its ranks throughout the 2009 season. Among the exempt players who are eligible to play this year are: Steve Jones (December 28, 2008), Tom Lehman (March 7), Bob Tway (May 4), Olin Browne (May 22), Tom Pernice, Jr. (September 5), David Frost (September 11), Fred Couples (October 3) and Tommy Armour III (October 8). Here's what several of the major championship winners from the Class of 2009 are saying:

Bob Tway - "I'm really looking forward to playing the Champions Tour. I talked with David Edwards and a few of the guys at the Father/Son event and everyone tells me what a fun time it is out there. Obviously, the competition is great, but they all say it's just a wonderful tim. I'm really looking forward to that."

Tom Lehman - "Turning 50 is a milestone. As a golfer, I've always been competitive and always wanted to play my best. I've enjoyed my years on the PGA TOUR, but at some point, I'll know when it's time to move on. The Champions Tour is something I look forward to with a lot of anticipation. There's a great camaraderie on the Champions Tour, but it's also very competitive. It's a great situation to be in, and I really look forward to that."

Fred Couples - "I'm really looking forward to it. I've talked with Mark O'Meara and Jay Haas about it, and my goal is to be healthy once I turn 50. The great thing is I'll be able to play in a few Champions Tour events right after I serve as the Captain of the U.S. team at the 2009 Presidents Cup at Harding Park."

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN': Tom Kite and Tom Watson both have claimed 10 TOUR victories in the state of California, the most among active players on the Champions Tour. Kite won six times on the PGA TOUR in California and has picked up four additional Champions Tour victories in the Golden State. Watson won nine times on the PGA TOUR in California but his only Champions Tour win in the state came at the 2005 Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Sonoma. Hale Irwin has seven combined TOUR wins in California (2-PGA TOUR, 5-Champions Tour), while Gil Morgan (2-PGA TOUR, 4-Champions Tour) and Mark O'Meara (6-PGA TOUR) have six total victories. Jim Thorpe has also registered five Champions Tour wins in California.

PLAYOFFS! ARE YOU KIDDIN' ME? Outside of the majors, the AT&T Champions Classic has had more playoffs in its history than any other event currently on the Champions Tour schedule. This tournament has gone to overtime five times and is the only event on the 2009 schedule that can boast having a playoff in each of the last two years. When John Brodie won the first playoff in tournament history back in 1991 at Rancho Park, he became the first professional athlete from another sport to triumph on the Champions Tour.

FIELD INCLUDES FORMER WINNERS AT DORAL: This year's AT&T Champions Classic field will have six professionals who also won at Doral on the PGA TOUR. Among the former Doral champions teeing it up this year at Valencia are: Hubert Green (1976), Andy Bean (1977, 1982, 1986), Tom Kite (1984), Lanny Wadkins (1987), Ben Crenshaw (1988) and Scott Hoch (2003).

GILDER'S THE IRONMAN: Bob Gilder's appearance at the 2009 AT&T Champions Classic will be his 126th consecutive tournament that he's been eligible for. Gilder's run began at the 2004 JELD-WEN Tradition. In eight previous appearances at Valencia, Gilder's best finish in this event is solo fifth in 2002. Dana Quigley holds the Champions Tour record for most consecutive eligible events played with 278 straight (1997 BankBoston Classic-2005 Ford Senior Players Championship).

HOPING TO REGAIN WINNING WAYS: Several players will look to return to the winner's circle in 2009 after not registering a victory last year. Jim Thorpe was winless in 2008, ending a run of eight consecutive seasons with at least one title. Among the other Champions Tour winners in 2007 who did not triumph in 2008 are: Hale Irwin, Mark James, Bobby Wadkins, Tom Purtzer, Keith Fergus, Lonnie Nielsen, Brad Bryant, Mark McNulty and Gil Morgan.

LOCAL PRODUCTS: This year's AT&T Champions Classic field will have several players with ties to the Southern California area. Among those expected to play in the event are: Craig Stadler (USC/San Diego native), Mark O' Meara (Long Beach State), Morris Hatalsky (U.S. International/San Diego native), Dave Stockton (USC/San Bernardino native), John Jacobs (USC/Los Angeles native) and John Cook (Corona del Mar resident).



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