Insider: Five burning questions before the year's first full-field event

Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
It's safe to say Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman will be in the mix for the Schwab Cup once again. But they may have company.
February 05, 2013
Vartan Kupelian

The Allianz Championship is the Champions Tour’s first full-field event of 2013. This is where it all begins and there’s certainty about where it will end – at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship on November 3.

But there is plenty unknown about how the plot will unwind over the next ninth months. That’s what competition is all about – the uncertainty. That’s why they play the game – to find out. That’s why underdogs can find that golden moment when they are transformed into top dogs.

There is so much about the Champions Tour that creates seminal moments. At the top of that list is the very nature of the Champions Tour, which extends career opportunities for golfers far beyond anything available in other professional sports. Call it a lottery win – that’s what many have called it. Or call it a second chance for those who maybe didn’t capitalize on their first chance. Many have called it that, too, a new lease on life.

Roger Chapman and Willie Wood were surprise two-time winners last year. Chapman, a journeyman on the European Tour, cashed in his lottery ticket by winning two major titles, the Senior PGA Championship and the U.S. Senior Open.

Wood, after years of dedication and perseverance, broke through twice in a span of three tournaments.

“Look at Willie Wood,” Chapman said. “He got a new lease on life, new confidence.”

So what’s on the horizon for the Champions Tour in 2013? Who will flourish, perhaps unexpectedly? Who will emerge from an inviting rookie class? Who will rediscover past glories?

Plenty of questions looking for answers on the way to the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

What will Tom Lehman do for an encore?

Lehman became the first back-to-back winner of the Charles Schwab Cup last year. He did it in style, too, playing his best golf when he needed it at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

This is how Bernhard Langer, the runner-up in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup race, put it: “Tom Lehman had a fantastic year and a very good week.  “He deserves to win. He deserves to be the champion. When it was necessary he put the pedal to the metal and that's what it takes."

There’s no reason to think Lehman won’t add another exclamation point to what he has already accomplished.

If not Lehman, who?

Lehman isn’t the only golfer looking to extend a streak. Langer has put together a five-year stretch to rival any in Champions Tour history.

A year ago, he became the first player to win the Arnold Palmer Award as the leading money-winner for the fourth time in five seasons. He missed the award only in 2011 when injuries dramatically limited his play.

In 2012, Langer finished in the top 10 in 14 of his last 15 events. He started this year by narrowly missing the playoff between John Cook and David Frost in Hawaii. The conclusion: Langer hasn’t missed a beat. Like Lehman, Langer’s best performances came in crunch time. Langer shot a 10-under 62 in the final round to win the 3M Championship. At the SAS Championship, he closed with a 9-under 63 to win again.

So is it Lehman and Langer again battling for the Charles Schwab Cup?

Safe to assume since Lehman and Langer (2010) have won the last three but there are others who will have a say in the matter. They include John Cook, Mark Calcavecchia, Fred Coupoles, Russ Cochran and Kenny Perry, to name a few. And don’t forget that it was Chapman who entered the Charles Schwab Cup Championship as one of three players – Lehman and Langer the others – with a chance to win the Cup last year.

So expect the unexpected.

Fred Couples and Tom Watson have Captain’s duties to tend to – Couples at this year’s President Cup and Watson at the 2014 Ryder Cup. How much will we see them on the Champions Tour?

For sure, they’ll both have international competition on the radar but they’re both competitors first and foremost so they’ll play plenty of golf.

Watson acknowledged he may play an extra event or two on the PGA TOUR to keep tabs on the young guys who will compete for a place on his Ryder Cup team.

This will be Couples’ third time as Presidents Cup captain. In 2011, he played 15 events – 10 on the Champions and five on the PGA TOUR. In 2009, his first time as captain, Couples played 16 events on the PGA TOUR. So expect him to play something in that range again, his health permitting.

What’s new on the Champions Tour?

Let’s begin with three first-time events. The Greater Gwinnett Championship, April 19-21, at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga., kicks off the trio.

It will be followed by the Encompass Championship, June 21-23, at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Ill. The third new event is north of the border – Calgary Golf Classic at Canyon Meadows Golf and Country Club in Calgary, Alberta, Aug. 30-Sept. 1.

What else is going on?

Three familiar faces will be back in the fray.

Hal Sutton, Scott Hoch and Joey Sindelar return to the Champions Tour at the Allianz after recovering from injuries.

A hip injury limited Sutton to 14 events in 2012, and none after mid-August. He underwent left hip replacement surgery on October 11 and is ready to play.

Hoch’s injury woes have centered on recurring wrist issues and, in 2011, a broken collarbone.

Sindelar made only 15 starts last year, his fewest in a season on the Champions Tour, because of chronic back trouble. He underwent back surgery on November 1.

How about the newcomers? Who will be vying for Rookie of the Year honors?

The list begins with major champion Steve Elkington and PGA TOUR winners Rocco Mediate and Bart Bryant. All have indicated a desire to play a lot of golf on the Champions Tour and if they do, there’s no reason why they can’t contend for some serious honors. All are potential winners early and often in their Champions Tour careers.