2012 primer: Ranking the best in key categories

January 18, 2012
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

The Champions Tour tees off the 2012 season this week in Hawaii with the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, where John Cook will defend the title.


Last year's victory got Cook off to a fast start and he used it to post a three-victory season, tying Tom Lehman for the most on the Champions Tour. The pair staged a season-long race for superiority with Lehman edging just far enough ahead to claim Player of the Year honors.

There's no reason to suspect Lehman, who posted his first victory in the second event, and Cook won't again be in the fray for post-season honors but they'll have plenty of company at the top.

The Champions Tour kicks off its return to the mainland with the Allianz Championship, Feb. 10-12, at The Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton, where Lehman is the defending champion.

In the Driver's Seat (Best Driver)
1. Tom Lehman The 2011 Player of the Year led the Champions Tour in the Total Driving statistic, which combines accuracy and distance.
2. Fred Couples His name doesnt appear in the official statistics for 2011 because he didn't get in enough rounds and drives to qualify, but his driver is what gives Couples a decided edge on the Champions Tour.
3. Steve Lowery Going deep is Lowery's niche -- as a rookie he topped the charts in Driving Distance at 293.3 yards.
Iron Men (Best iron players)
1. Tom Lehman It isn't even close. Lehman's 77.68 percentage for Greens in Regulation was more than 3.5 percent higher than the runner-up.
2. Mark Calcavecchia From 175 to 200 yards, he's the best with a GIR of 74 percent. And he's No. 3 from 150 to 175 yards.
3. Jeff Sluman In 77 rounds on the 2011 Champions Tour, he hit more greens than anyone else - 891 greens in regulation for a percentage of 73.88.
Short Game Wizards
1. Peter Senior Statistically, he topped the field with 69.13 in the Scrambling category, narrowly edging Russ Cochran (69.03).
2. Corey Pavin In his case, forget about statistics (he was No. 3), Pavin is simply an astounding up-and-down player. It has always been his trademark.
3. Larry Mize After all, the signature shot of his career was a 100-foot chip shot that won the 1987 Masters in a playoff. His numbers are still way up on the Champions Tour.
Masters of the Greens
1. Jay Don Blake Colleagues marvel at his putting skills and he put those to outstanding use in those two victories last year in Korea and at TPC Harding Park. He reminded everybody just how good he is with the short stick.
2. Chien-Soon Lu Shared top spot in the stats at 28.47 putts per round with Corey Pavin, and when you can match Pavin on the greens, that says something.
3. Corey Pavin His putting always has been a lot of fun to watch. Every putt looks like it's going in, and many do.
Most Improved Putter
1. Chip Beck In this new category, Beck made enormous headway in 2011, moving from the very bottom to T13. It changed his outlook and his results.
2. Chien Soon-Lu He moved from No. 12 in 2010 to the top of the list. In any game, that's major improvement.
3. Gary Hallberg Cracked the top 5 in Putts Per Round (28.58) after being 19th the previous year.
Mr. Sandman (bunker brilliance)
1. Dan Forsman A wide statistical advantage, more than five full points based on his 68.57 success rate in the Sand Save category.
2. Olin Browne No. 2 at 63.22 percent, the skill helped make him a major champion at the U.S. Senior Open.
3. David Eger He was only plus-9 out of bunkers in 70 rounds, a figure topped only by Forsman's plus-3 in 63 rounds.
Waiting for a major championship
1. Mark Calcavecchia There's no question who tops this list after last year's string of strong performances.
2. Kenny Perry Great expectations followed Perry onto the Champions Tour. He's got one victory but, surely, once isn't enough and a major is in his wheelhouse.
3. Corey Pavin It's time to turn the close calls into a major triumph.
Comeback Player of the Year
1. Fred Funk He deserves an injury-free year and if he gets it, there's nothing to suggest that he can't be the man.
2. Loren Roberts Showed signs of coming out of his slump as the 2011 season was winding down. If he continues the trend, he'll be back in the winner's circle.
3. Bernhard Langer Is a three-time Player of the Year eligible? Sure, why not. Look out if he's healthy. He's a guy who likes to make a point.

Here's a preview of the best of the best as the Champions Tour embarks on the 2012 campaign:

The Champions Tour Majors

Senior PGA Championship: May 24-27, The Golf Club at Harbor Shores Defending champion: Tom Watson.

Regions Tradition: June 7-10, Shoal Creek Defending champion: Tom Lehman.

Constellation Senior Players Championship: June 28-July 1, Fox Chapel Golf Club Defending champion: Fred Couples.

U.S. Senior Open: July 12-15, Indianwood Golf and Country Club Defending champion: Olin Browne.

The Senior Open Championship: July 26-29, Turnberry (Ailsa Course), Scotland Defending champion: Russ Cochran.

Champions Tour Insider Vartan Kupelian is a freelance contributor for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.