Liberty Mutual fertile ground for first-time Tour winners

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Mark O'Meara (left) finally got into the Champions Tour winners circle at last year's Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, playing with Nick Price.
April 21, 2011
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

It's a good week to be Corey Pavin. Or Kenny Perry. Or Tommy Armour III.

In each of the past two years, the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf has provided a runway for a first-time Champions Tour winner.

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In 2009, Tom Lehman, teaming with Bernhard Langer, posted his breakthrough triumph. Lehman backed it up by winning the Senior PGA Championship last year and already has won twice this year.

In 2010, Mark O'Meara finally had his much-anticipated Champions Tour victory at Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa. O'Meara and his partner, Nick Price, won on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff against John Cook and Joey Sindelar.

O'Meara had come close time and again without taking the final step into the winner's circle.

"It was nice to get over the top," O'Meara said. "But I also realized that even though I played fairly well I hadn't had a win. I had some chances, other guys performed at a better level. You just have to keep knocking on the door. Fortunately for me, that got me over the hurdle. It was nice to get that out of the way but it was also nice to go on and win again later in the year."

O'Meara's first individual title came a few months later at the Constellation Energy Senior Players, a major championship on the Champions Tour.

Price won The Principal Charity Classic a month after the Legends of Golf. It was his second individual title on the Champions Tour.

"Getting that first win under your belt for the year -- doesn't matter whether it's a team event or individual -- it makes the rest of the year, the outlook, a lot rosier," Price said. "It's no surprise that I went on to win a month later and Mark went on to win in September. It was a great stepping stone for us."

Pavin, Perry and Armour are just three of the relative newcomers to the Champions Tour who are poised for that kind of breakthrough. Pavin has been close on a number of occasions, including the Senior British Open last year when he chased Langer to the wire at Carnoustie before falling a stroke short. Pavin also had a runner-up finish at The Cap Cana Championship to Fred Couples and eight top 10 finishes as a Champions Tour rookie.

Playing alongside Lehman is an ideal scenario for Pavin, who replaces the injured Langer. Lehman and Langer tied for fourth last year after winning the event in 2009.

Perry will partner Scott Hoch. Armour, who came close to winning on the 2010 Champions Tour dominated by Couples, is playing with Mark Brooks, a Champions Tour rookie.

Perry made his Champions Tour debut with two events last year just to break the ice and get a feel for what he can expect. His game plan is to spend more time on the Champions Tour except when the PGA TOUR is at his favorite events, like the Colonial, Memorial and at Greenbrier.

Perry loves the "stress-free" atmosphere of the Champions Tour and the opportunity to mingle with old friends and competitors.

"It really is," Perry said in Tampa. "You know, all these guys I loved and they made me who I am, I enjoy seeing all these old guys out here playing. Just guys that have meant a lot to me in my career, helping me in my career. They're still out here. I was able to go and shake their hands and say hi. That's been pretty special."

One of the players reconnecting with Perry this week at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf is Hoch. They've had success together in the past, winning the Merrill Lynch Shark Shootout in 2008 against a field dominated by PGA TOUR players. Perry has a history of doing well in better-ball and mixed format events. He won the same event in 2005 with John Huston.

Price and O'Meara defend

2010 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf champions Mark O'Meara and Nick Price answer questions submitted by the media on their 2011 title defense.

Perry is going to win on the Champions Tour, sooner rather than later. He shares the same goals as many of the others who enjoyed success on the PGA TOUR.

"I'm looking forward to the majors," he said. "I know we're going to play Valhalla (the Senior PGA Championship, May 24-29). Looking forward to that. I'm still a very competitive person. I think I still got enough in me to be competitive out here and yet still be competitive on the regular TOUR."

It is at Valhalla Golf Club in his native state of Kentucky that Perry came close to winning a major championship. He lost the 1996 PGA Championship to Brooks. In 2008, Perry was among the leaders and key contributors to the U.S. Ryder Cup victory at Valhalla.

"I'm just going to pick and choose the golf tournaments that I enjoy on the regular tour, and then I want to try to play all the courses out here on the Champions Tour so I can figure out where I think my game is going to be strongest," Perry said.

"I planned making the Ryder Cup team that way. I played all the events that I thought I was going to be very good at and competitive, I could earn Ryder Cup points, Top 10s, and worked out good for me. I just want to win out here."

There's no better place to start doing that than the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf.

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