Insider: There will be plenty to watch for in 2014, from rookies to veterans
January 27, 2014
By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM
- A star class of rookie players come aboard the Champions Tour in 2014, including Billy Andrade. (Getty)
Will it be Kenny Perry again? Or Bernhard Langer?
Will the charismatic Fred Couples finally reach out and grab the Charles Schwab Cup in 2014?
And what about the rookies? Who will succeed Rocco Mediate and Esteban Toledo as first-year players who make the biggest headlines?
The Champions Tour enters its 35th season this week at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai on the Big Island of Hawaii and, once again, golf’s senior circuit is embracing endless possibilities.
The Champions Tour is coming off a 2013 season that offered milestone after milestone, great golf and great championships – and the new campaign begins with anticipation of more of the same.
Here’s a look at what’s on the horizon for the 2014 Champions Tour season.
The Couples Watch
It’s not going out on a limb to suggest which players have the loftiest expectations in 2014.
The list begins with Couples. After winning the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, he expressed an unbridled ambition to add the Charles Schwab Cup to his resume. Toward that end, Couples vowed to spend the off-season getting his game, his mind and his health ready for a season big enough to net that coveted prize.
Couples finished third in the Charles Schwab Cup points race despite playing only 15 events in 2013. By comparison, Perry played in 20 tournaments and Langer in 24. Nobody has to tell Couples that to compete for the title he needs to increase his participation and he’s aiming to do that. Couples had 10 top 10s, six top threes and had the best scoring average, 68.64.
If Couples does, indeed, play six or seven more events there is another significant benefit. It ratchets up the visibility of the Champions Tour. Couples is one of those professional athletes who moves the needle just by showing up.
An encore for Perry?
The Charles Schwab Cup is in its 14th year. The points-based competition identifies the best player over the course of the season and rewards him with a $1 million bonus.
Perry took control of the race during a Summer of ‘13 blitz when he won the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship and the U.S. Senior Open back-to-back after letting a late lead slip away to finish second at the Senior PGA Championship. Double points are awarded at the five major championships and Perry’s performance in those events put him atop the standings, where he remained for the rest of the year.
Is there another big season in the forecast for Perry? Certainly, he is capable of doing it again and of all the things that motivate athletes, none is greater than the prospect of winning again.
The Langer Effect
Bernhard Langer has been a dynamic force since joining the Champions Tour late in the 2007 season. Now 56, Langer is entering that phase when history tells us the window to victory begins to close. It would be foolhardy to suggest Langer is subject to such frailties.
Langer won his fifth Arnold Palmer Award as the leading money-winner in the last six years when he claimed the title, earning $2,448,428 in official money. He was still in contention for another Charles Schwab Cup late into the final round at TPC Harding Park, eventually finishing second. He was also second in scoring average (68.92) behind Couples.
Langer has won 18 times on the Champions Tour and he’s nowhere near finished.
Once again, the five major championships on the Champions Tour offer a distinguished set of venues.
The first two majors will be held in back-to-back weeks in May, beginning with the Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek in Birmingham, Alabama, May 12-18. Defending champion: David Frost.
The Champions Tour will move north to Michigan once again for the Senior PGA Championship, May 19-25. Defending champion: Kohki Idoki.
Fox Chapel, the venerable Pittsburgh club, will be host to the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship June 23-29. Defending champion: Perry.
The U.S. Senior Open is scheduled for Oak Tree National in Edmond, Oklahoma, July 7-13. Defending champion: Perry.
The Senior (British) Open Championship will be held in Wales at Royal Porthcrawl, July 21-27, where popular Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez is expected to make his Champions Tour debut. Defending champion: Mark Wiebe.
There will be a new look when the Insperity Championship becomes the Insperity Invitational with a format change. The new event will continue to be played at The Woodlands Country Club in its traditional date, April 28-May 4, with a purse increase to $2 million.
In another change, the Montreal Championship will move north to Quebec City and become the Quebec Championship, September 1-7, at La Tempete Golf Club. The layout is billed as the first world-class caliber golf course in the Quebec City area.
Billy Andrade can’t wait for his 50th birthday on January 25 when he will become instantly eligible for the Champions Tour. Three days later, Woody Austin will celebrate his milestone birthday. But Austin, winner last year of the Sanderson Farms Championship, remains focused on the PGA TOUR. Incidentally, Andrade tied for fifth at the Sanderson Farms Championship to fuel his hopes of a big Champions Tour debut.
The Champions Tour Class of ’14 – players who will be eligible this year - is impressive. It is headlined by two major champions – Davis Love (April 13) and Lee Janzen (August 28). It includes Jeff Maggert (February 20), Joe Durant (April 7), Stephen Ames (April 28), Paul Goydos (June 20), Kevin Sutherland (July 4) and Scott Verplank (July 9).
Five rookies won on the Champions Tour in 2013. Rocco Mediate, on his way to Rookie of the Year honors, and Esteban Toledo won twice each. Bart Bryant, John Riegger and Kohki Idoki also won in their first year.