CT Insider: Toshiba Classic field may be the 'best ever'

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Tom Lehman will make his third Champions Tour appearance of the year at the Toshiba Classic.
March 03, 2010
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

Ben Crenshaw, Larry Mize, Mark O'Meara and Fuzzy Zoeller don't have to look far to find a favorable omen for success this week at the Toshiba Classic.

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They are former Masters champions and the first four events of the 2010 Champions Tour campaign have been won by golfers whose closets are adorned by a Green Jacket.

Nick Price, Peter Senior, David Frost and a few others must feel pretty good about their chances, too.

In the past decade, the Toshiba Classic has been won four times by international golfers, including the past two champions: Eduardo Romero last year and Bernhard Langer in 2008.

That's the backdrop to the Toshiba Classic, which will feature an outstanding field and bring together for the first time the four "rookies" who have made an immediate impact on the Champions Tour.

Fred Couples, with a victory and a runner-up finish in his two Champions Tour starts, will tee it up Friday along with Corey Pavin, Paul Azinger and Tommy Armour III.

Couples is among the five former Masters champions to post victories this year. Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus opened the season by teaming to win the Wendy's Champions Skins Game. Watson won the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, where Couples was runner-up. In his next start, Couples won The ACE Group Classic. Langer closed February by winning the Allianz Championship.

"The field is unbelievable," said Jeff Purser, executive director of the Toshiba Classic. "Maybe the best we've ever had. Tough to say best ever when we had Jack Nicklaus out one year and Arnold Palmer out one year.

"But when you look at the guys coming out, that's what I love about the Champions Tour -- that it reinvents itself every year with guys like Freddie, Corey (Pavin), (Paul) Azinger, Bob Tway, Phil Blackmar, David Frost. Just an incredible list of players coming out on this tour."

Couples and Tom Lehman are returning to the Champions Tour after excellent performances at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. They were in a group tied for 14th at 10-under-par 274. Both were on the leaderboard throughout the tournament, Lehman after opening with rounds of 66-67.

Lehman will make his third Champions Tour appearance this year. He finished fourth in Hawaii and T5 at Allianz. He takes his hat off to the level of competition on the Champions Tour.

"I'm going to give them all the credit in the world for how well that those guys still play," Lehman said. "How hard they work, how dedicated they are still to playing their best golf, and you have to play well to win."

Romero's victory last year was the 100th professional title of his career, which began in 1980. He has won five times on the Champions Tour and twice more on senior circuits globally. Both of those came at the Wentworth Senior Masters back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

Romero produced some magic with his putter on the back nine in the final round at Newport Beach. He made three straight birdies beginning at the 10th. He averaged 26.7 putts per round and had an impression putts to greens in regulation ratio of 1.611.

Romero has made two starts this year, with a best finish of T11 at The ACE Group Classic. He had two top 10 finishes last year, both in California. The victory at Newport Beach was followed by a ninth-place finish at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

Champions Tour Insider notes:

• Couples' ball-striking has always been admired. On the Champions Tour, his putting has been equally outstanding. He is second in putts per round at 27.33 and third in putting average at 1.626 with the belly putting style he's been using for eight years. Tom Watson leads both putting categories.

"At first I used to jam it way in there for a little pressure, and then I started putting well with it," Couples said. "I do it because it helps my back. It actually keeps me a little taller, and when I hinge a little more than I should, that's when I have all kinds of back problems, so it keeps me from doing that."

• Pavin, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, selected four assistant captains. They are Lehman, who was captain of the 2006 U.S. team, and Jeff Sluman, both winners on the Champions Tour, and youngsters Davis Love III and Paul Goydos. Pavin has a practical reason for having four on his staff.

"I want an assistant to go with every match on Friday and Saturday," Pavin said. "That was the main reason."

Lehman arranged to have the American team visit Ireland in 2006 to play the K-Club course before the matches. Pavin doesn't expect to have the same opportunity for Celtic Manor in Wales.

"When Tom was captain, it was a different situation," he said. "There were 10 players, two captain's picks. Captain's picks were made the day after the PGA Championship, so there was a six-week period between the PGA when the team was assembled and the Ryder Cup. It's a different story now. My four picks are going to be coming three weeks before the Ryder Cup and right in the middle of the FedExCup. Logistically I think it would be impossible to get the guys over there as a group.

"If they want to get over and play on their own, maybe around British Open time, that's going to be up to them. If they'd like to, that's fine. If they don't, that's fine, too. We're going to be over there, have three practice rounds during the Ryder Cup. It's a very straightforward golf course, and I think three (practice rounds) is going to be enough to get ready."

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