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Tour Comes Out of Slumber

Stadler and Watson are among the players who helped make the year eventful for seniors.

November 20, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

The professional golf tour that belongs to the players who are at least 50 entered a brave new world in 2003, which probably would serve as more than enough headline news for a circuit that usually doesn't make much.

But if you're looking for turning points in the long and increasingly boring history of what used to be the Senior PGA Tour, then this year had it all.

Craig Stadler turned 50 in June, won the Ford Senior Players Championship on the old-guy tour and then came back and won the B.C. Open on the young-guy tour.

Tom Watson won two old-guy tour majors and was second in two others. And that wasn't the best thing he did.

Hale Irwin once again proved more dependable than one of those car batteries, washing machines or bloodhounds.

Bruce Lietzke won more money without really caring about playing than anyone in the history of golf.

Once again, there was some buzz about Larry Nelson, who returned to the winner's circle with a victory at Baltimore, where he closed out his triumph after being stung on a finger by a bee.

Of course, there was more to the happenings of the over-50 generation, which has for a period of time been mired in appreciation envy with the youngsters on the PGA Tour, a sizable gap highlighted by how they are perceived -- one group with Generation X and another with Mr. X.

Thank you, Miller Barber, for all you've done.

But to begin with, there came the requisite face-lift, or to be more accurate, the name-lift, because everybody knows the first responsibility of a brand-new team is to change the uniforms. In this case, it was the name of the uniforms.

The Senior PGA Tour became the Champions Tour, and just like that, it was a year to remember.

Stadler hadn't won since the 1996 Nissan Open, but when he showed up in Dearborn, Mich., for the Ford Senior Players Championship a month after he turned 50, he acted as if he had forgotten all that. He won it.

Then, a month after that, when the PGA Tour stopped for the B.C. Open while the British Open was being played, Stadler tried his luck again. It was still good. He made up eight shots on Sunday with a closing 63, and his 21-under 267 was one shot off the tournament record.

So, someone asked him, does life really begin at 50?

"Well, it's not bad so far," said Stadler, who became the first player to win on the Champions Tour and follow it with a victory on the PGA Tour in the same year.

Even though he had a late start, Stadler played 14 times and was 14th on the money list with $1.192 million.

The leader in the chase of cash was Watson, who also played 14 times but won $1.85 million. And when he was second to Jim Thorpe at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, the season-ending tour championship, Watson had piled up enough points for the season to earn a $1-million annuity ... which he promptly donated to research for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in honor of his caddie, Bruce Edwards.

"What I'd like to do is help my buddy out," Watson said. "And people like him, so we can find a cure."

The story of the year was the Watson-Edwards saga, the 54-year-old superstar and his 48-year-old caddie, who learned in January that he had Lou Gehrig's disease.

On the course, Lietzke showed up for work 22 times and made a career-high $1.6 million.

"We have a great bunch of guys out here and we're having a great time," Lietzke said. "The money is unreal."

And how about the Champions Tour producing a stirring year? The word for that event is unexpected.




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