By Phil Stambaugh, Champions Tour staff
Craig Stadler made a 12-foot par-saving putt on the last hole to avoid a playoff with Fred Couples and win the inaugural Encompass Championship just north of Chicago. After making four birdies in his first six holes to open up a five-stroke lead, Stadler began to waver down the stretch and bogeys at the 12th and 14th holes reduced his lead to a single stroke. However, Couples bogeyed the last hole from the middle of the 18th fairway, hitting his second shot into the bunker right of the green. But Stadler bogeyed the 15th hole just moments later, failing to get up and down from the greenside bunker. After two-putting from 35 feet for a par at the 211-yard par-3 17th hole to preserve his one-stroke advantage, Stadler ripped a drive down the middle of the 18th fairway. With Couples posted at 12-under and waiting to see if there would be a playoff, Stadler pushed his second shot into the same bunker at No. 18 that got Couples earlier in the day. After an indifferent bunker shot, Stadler then holed a curling left-to-right breaking putt for victory. It marked the first time since David Frost’s win at the Toshiba Classic in March that a Saturday leader went on to claim a 54-hole event on the Champions Tour.
• Craig Stadler won his ninth career title on the Champions Tour and ended a victory drought of 8 years, 8 months and 28 days, breaking the Champions Tour’s all-time mark for longest time between victories. (J.C. Snead previously held the record of 6 years, 11 months, 7 days (1995 Ford Senior Players Championship-2002 Greater Baltimore Classic).
• Before today’s victory, Stadler’s last top-10 finish in a stroke-play event was a T7 at last summer’s 3M Championship. He also teamed with Kirk Triplett to finish T4 at the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf, a team better-ball tournament, earlier this year.
• Stadler’s win today comes in his 171st start since his last victory at the 2004 SAS Championship.
• Stadler became the 21st winner over the age of 60 in Champions Tour history and the first since Bob Gilder won the 2011 Principal Charity Classic.
• Stadler won an inaugural event for the second time in his Champions Tour career – 2004 First Tee Open at Pebble Beach.
• Stadler becames the ninth different winner in the 11 stroke-play events that have been played on the 2013 Champions Tour and he earned a return trip to the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai for the next two years.
• Stadler earned 270 Charles Schwab Cup points and moves into 20th place in the season-long race with 327 points. David Frost’s T3 performance this week moved his season-long total to 1,417 points. Bernhard Langer also finished T3 this week and he remains in second place with 1,119 points.
• Stadler was T7 in the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes and also was T8 at the 1990 U.S. Open Championship at Medinah. Stadler also played in the Western Open 12 times and best finish was a T17 in 1978.
• Fred Couples’ final-round 66 was the best Sunday round amongst the field and he’s now finished among the top-four in five of his six starts on the Champions Tour this year. He was a runner-up at the Toshiba Classic, the Regions Tradition and this week’s Encompass Championship.
• John Riegger, a winner at the Web.com Tour’s 2007 LaSalle Bank Open held nearby at The Glen Club, and Jeff Brehaut, both made their debuts on the Champions Tour this week. Riegger finished T26 at North Shore Country Club while Brehaut was T59 in Glenview. Both players became eligible for the circuit on June 13 when they turned 50. Brehaut earned the No. 2 spot at last fall’s National Qualifying Tournament while Riegger secured the fifth spot.
• Local favorite Jeff Sluman from Hinsdale, Ill., finished T3 in the first Encompass Championship, his fourth top-10 finish on the Champions Tour in his last six starts, and his best performance in a stroke-play event on the circuit since T3 last year at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic.
• Tom Pernice Jr. recorded a T3 effort this week at the Encompass Championship. It marked the fifth time in his 11 starts on the circuit in 2013 that he’s finished second or third in a Champions Tour event – T2/Allianz Championship, T3/ACE Group Classic, T3/Mississippi Gulf Resort Clasic, T2/Greater Gwinnett Championship.
• In his first Champions Tour start since withdrawing from the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open last August, World Golf Hall of Fame member Nick Price finished T76. Price has been rehabbing from recent elbow issues and made just eight starts in 2012.
• On Sunday there were only 16 rounds in the 60s at North Shore Country Club after 25 players posted sub-70 scores on Saturday and 21 sub-70 scores on Friday. There were 40 scores below par on Sunday, one more than Saturday, after 47 scores were under par in Round 1. The stroke average for the final round was 71.901 (-0.099) compared to 71.568 (-0.432) on Saturday and 71.494 (-0.505) on Friday. The overall stroke average for the inaugural Encompass Championship was 71.654 (-0.346). The hardest hole for the week was the par-3 17th (3.272), yielding only nine birdies and just five over the final two days of the event. The easiest hole was the par-5 11th (4.490), yielding nine eagles and 179 birdies.
• Both Craig Stadler and Fred Couples made 18 birdies, the most by players in the field this week…Bernhard Langer made the fewest bogeys with only two.
• Next week’s Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS at Fox Chapel Golf Club near Pittsburgh, Pa. is the third of five major championships on the Champions Tour in 2013.