PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Part I: Ingredients in place for special year
Strong rookie class, resurgence of stars providing superb start to 2017 season
February 23, 2017
By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM
- February 23, 2017
- Rookie David Toms has three strong showings in the first three events of 2017. (Ryan Young/PGA TOUR)
Editor's note: This is the first installment of a two-part series on the 2017 PGA TOUR Champions. Next week: The Langer Effect.
Three events into the 2017 season it is abundantly clear that the PGA TOUR Champions is on the brink of a memorable season.
The golf has been top drawer and there’s been plenty of it. The winners have produced quality golf beginning with Bernhard Langer in Hawaii and continuing with Scott McCarron and Fred Couples in the two Florida events.
There have been signature arrivals in major champions David Toms and Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal and global identities like Irishman Paul McGinley, a former European Ryder Cup captain. And more are coming. Soon to join the ranks are popular American Steve Stricker. His buddy, Jerry Kelly, made his debut last week at the Chubb Classic.
The first three events have also marked the resurgence of longtime PGA TOUR Champions winners, among them Couples, Kenny Perry and Fred Funk. And the best players of the last few years have continued their fine form, guys like Langer, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Colin Montgomerie and Joe Durant.
All the ingredients are there.
McCarron won the Allianz Championship with a 17-under total in 54 holes. Thirty-one golfers were in double-digits under-par on The Old Course at Broken Sound and within six shots of the lead. A total of 1,096 birdies were made in 54 holes.
Langer won the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai with a 15-under total, one better than Couples, who reached 16 under at TwinEagles Golf Club. Jimenez was runner-up. Kelly tied for third in his first event and wasn’t surprised by anything that happened.
“I have no trouble understanding how good these guys are,” Kelly said. “Yeah, this is my tour. I'm here to stay; I loved it.”
The central theme on the PGA TOUR Champions is Go Low or Go Home.
“We learned a few things,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to go all out all the time.”
Olazabal, McGinley and Welshman Phillip Price debuted at the Allianz Championship. McGinley opened with a 3-under 69, Olazabal and Price both 71. Olin Browne was the first-round leader with an 8-under 63, Perry had 65 and three others were at 66. There were 28 scores posted in the 60s.
“It’s so funny,” Perry said. “I'm anxious to hear what Olazabal and Phillip Price and McGinley say after they see all these scores up there.
“That's what happened to me when I first came out here, the scores were like that. I was like, "I'm going back to the PGA TOUR, it's easier out there." So you've got to really work out here. These guys, look at them, look at how the range is packed right now. Those guys are hungry, they're all grinding.”
Couples has enjoyed three outstanding tournaments in his return from a season of relative inactivity due to his chronic back issues.
“David Toms is over there chipping, he's phenomenal,” Couples said. “Stricker's coming out. We don't have Nicklaus, Player, Palmer and Trevino, but we have pretty good players, that's for sure.”
Couples and John Daly, in his second year, have been two of the most popular figures in the game for three decades.
Couples, the 1991 Masters winner, has learned to live with his physical issues but he’s determined to make the best of it for however long he has left.
McGinley is trying to get grounded on the PGA TOUR Champions. He’s looking for sponsor exemptions to add to what will not be a big schedule to begin with. He consulted with countryman Des Smyth, who won twice on the PGA TOUR Champions in 2005.
“Des played seven years out here,” McGinley said. “He taught me a lot about it. I know what it's going to be like.
“I saw them play at Sunningdale two years ago at the (Senior) Open Championship, a course that I know well. The scoring and the quality of play was the highest caliber. I know just how difficult it is to compete and play well out here. You know, it's important for me to play well. You're not going to fidget around on this tour. This is a tour with a lot of high caliber players.”
Joe Durant is an immaculate ballstriker. He was No. 1 in the total driving statistic last year and had a scoring average of 69.65. Durant had 13 top-10 finishes in 25 starts but only one victory when he might have been expected to win more. He won the 3M Championship in a playoff.
“That's kind of the nature of this tour,” Durant said. “You've just got to go play every day.”
Marco Dawson won the 2015 Senior Open Championship at Sunningdale where he outplayed Langer and Montgomerie down the stretch. Dawson played in the Allianz as the first alternate, and again as first alternate at the Chubb Classic.
Dawson, who was No. 38 last year, understands there is no resting on laurels on the PGA TOUR Champions. It’s the toughest tour in the world to qualify to play on, and even more difficult to stay.
“I know that,” Dawson said at the Allianz. “I want to be able to know that I have to perform and then play well. You don't want to come out here and know that you've got a free pass and not play worth a crap.
“Nobody likes to do that. I know that I have to play well to finish in the top 36 (to reach the Charles Schwab Cup Championship) and that's fine, that's fine. I have no problem with that, no problem at all. It forces me, it makes me want to play better. I'm always going to be sharp. I always know that there's no free pass for me, so it's going to make me work, which is good. I like that.”
The motivation to play well on the PGA TOUR Champions comes in many shapes and it’s always there, maybe now more than ever.
Next week: The Langer Effect.
Fred Couples wins by three at Chubb Classic