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‘Classic’ has been an apt description

Champions Tour event in Valencia has produced memorable finishes since arriving in 2001

Posted: March 15, 2009 2:15 a.m.
Updated: March 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Jay Haas drives off the 11th tee Saturday at the AT&T Champions Classic at Valencia Country Club.

 
The AT&T Champions Classic has a rich history during its nine years at the Valencia Country Club. Since the tournament moved from Los Angeles to Valencia in 2001, there have been a pair of playoff rounds and two wins from Tom Purtzer, along with victories from some of golf’s best players, including Tom Watson, Gil Morgan and Tom Kite. Today, the 2009 AT&T Champions Classic concludes with the third round.

March 9-11, 2001
SBC Classic

The first year of the then titled “SBC Senior Classic” at the Valencia Country Club featured PGA stars such as Hale Irwin and Raymond Floyd, yet it was Jose Maria Canizares who jumped out to the first round lead. Canizares shot a 65 round on a wet course that saw seven inches of rain fall earlier in the week.

The second round belonged to Larry Nelson, who shot a 64 to drop to 10-under par and move into a tie for the lead with Jim Colbert.

The consistent play of Colbert keyed his victory at the first SBC Senior Classic at Valencia. Colbert shot a pair of 67s in the first two rounds and scored a 70 to edge Canizares by a shot.

Canizares birdied the 18th hole on a cloud covered final round, which meant Colbert needed to par the last hole to win. Colbert knocked home a four-foot putt to earn his first championship
since 1998.

“It was hard to make birdies today,” Colbert said of the final round on March 11, 2001. “It was cold, but I really did play good today.”

March 1-3. 2002
SBC Classic

There were few names bigger than Tom Kite and Tom Watson at the SBC Senior Classic in 2002, and the decorated PGA champions did not disappoint.

Winds drove scores up in the first round as a two-under 70 from Tom Purtzer was good enough to take a lead after the first 18.
Kite and Watson both rallied to shoot 69 during the second day of play, white Purtzer dropped back to the field with a 74, leaving Watson atop the leaderboard at 3-under.

Kite and Watson finished a shot in front of Purtzer at 4-under to force a playoff. After halving the first hole Kite drilled a birdie on the 10th hole to score the victory. A difficult chip to answer Watson’s par set up Kite’s winning putt.

“It wasn’t the easiest chip to begin with, and then when Tom did what he did,” Kite said. “I felt pretty good about my chances on my putt, and it went right in.”

March 14-16, 2003
SBC Classic

Rain washed away the second round of the third SBC Senior Classic at Valencia Country Club, but Tom Purtzer capitalized on the opportunity he had a year earlier to score the win.

Gil Morgan opened the event in the lead with a first-round 65 before the weather canceled Saturday’s round, but he shot a 71 on Sunday to open the door for Purtzer.

Purtzer nailed a 58-foot putt for the win, overcoming a two-shot deficit on the final hole.

“I wanted to make a birdie on 18 to finish in second by myself,” Purtzer said. “Any time Gil is ahead of you by one or two shots you better not make any mistakes. He’s such a great player.”

Purtzer finished at 9-under for the tournament.

March 12-14, 2004
SBC Classic

Gil Morgan avenged his second-place finish in 2003 with a win at the SBC Classic in 2004. It was his first win on the Champions Tour, and he held the lead through all three rounds.

Morgan took a three-shot lead into the last round and maintained with another third sub-par round.

Morgan edged Larry Nelson by two shots, nailing down the victory with a final round 69 to secure his lead in the sun.

Three consecutive birdies on the ninth, 10th and 11th holes on Sunday set Morgan apart from the pack.

“Those three holes were very crucial,” Morgan said. “It was hard with a three-shot lead. You get a little defensive because you know everyone is coming to get you.”

Morgan shot 14-under for the tournament.

March 11-13, 2005
SBC Classic

Des Smyth clutched up to win amidst windy conditions at Valencia Country Club.

Isao Aoki jumped out to the first round lead with the only sub-70 score by shooting a 69, but Smyth’s consistency proved to be key.

Smyth edged D.A. Weibring and Mark McNulty by a shot.

Keith Fergus took the lead into the final round, but shot a 77 on Sunday.

The Irishman scored his first Champions Tour victory by shooting 5-under.

“The win is more important than money to me,” Smyth said.

March 10-12, 2006
AT&T Classic

The name of the tournament changed in 2006, but the length of the winner’s first name stayed the same for the 11th consecutive year.

Dating back to when the tourney was held at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, a man with a three letter first name took home the title in every Classic.

Tom Kite outshot the field by five strokes, keyed by a 64 in the second round, which gave him the edge going into the final day.

Ben Crenshaw shot a 68 to take the first-round lead, but a 77 in the third round took him out of contention, while Kite cruised to victory.

It was Kite’s first Champions Tour win in nearly 19 months.

“I wouldn’t say it gets me back because its been a long time,” Kite said. “Out here on the Champions Tour it’s like a mulligan anyway, but that mulligan doesn’t last forever. You have to take advantage of it.”

March 16-18, 2007
AT&T Classic

Tom Purtzer and Loren Roberts battled to a 10-under tie after 54 holes to set up an epic back-and-forth playoff.

Hale Irwin took the lead into the final day but shot a 73 on Sunday.

It was the fifth time in six tourneys at Valencia Country Club that Purtzer had finished in the top 10, and it was his second championship at the AT&T Classic.

Purtzer birdied from 17 feet for the victory on the 58th hole of the tournament.

“I don’t care how I’m playing coming into this tournament,” Purtzer said. “I know I’m going to play well here. You need to drive the ball well, and you need to hit you iron shots. It’s not so much a hitting contest.”

March 15-17 2008
AT&T Classic

Denis Watson staged an epic comeback to earn his third win on the Champions Tour in just over a year. He rallied from seven shots down on the final day to score the victory.

Brad Bryant came into the last round with a seven-shot lead on Watson, but the 2007 Champions Tour Rookie of the Year stepped up and birdied the third playoff hole on No. 10 to score the victory.

Loren Roberts also worked his way into the playoff by knocking home a shot from 43 yards out, but he couldn’t overcome Watson’s Sunday run to glory.

“I was more nervous than when I was playing,” Watson said of watching the final hole of the playoff. “This was like biting your fingernails.”

kdamore@the-signal.com

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