Champions tee off year with Mitsubishi Electric
A bunch of familiar old faces will be joined by a few new familiar old faces when the Champions Tour opens its 31st season tomorrow with the 27th Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualālai.
The tournament is on the Big Island for the 14th consecutive year. It is the first of 26 official senior events in 2010, offering purses worth $51.5 million.
By comparison, the LPGA schedule starts in a month in Thailand. It has 24 events this year, including two still looking for a site. Half are in the U.S. and the total prize money is $36.65 million, with two still to be decided.
No wonder Fred Couples is planning to play full time on the no-cut Champions Tour next year. This year he is looking at 12 events with the seniors and 10 on the regular tour, or more than he has played in 20 years of back problems.
"If I get healthy, and I play well, then I should really be great for the Champions Tour," said Couples, who turned 50 Oct. 3. "I should be able to win. I should be able to compete. So the health thing is a big deal, and I can promise you that since June it's been pretty much downhill. It hasn't been much fun. But now I have been off six weeks. My back was killing me and I played the last two weeks, and I feel OK. That's a good sign because normally it will come and it will go."
Couples said his goal "is to play where I belong and really it's probably on the Champions Tour. My days on the PGA Tour will soon be gone." He is making his official debut this week, along with Corey Pavin, who became eligible Nov. 16.
Both won 15 PGA Tour events, including a major. Pavin is this year's Ryder Cup captain and finished 52nd at last week's Sony Open in Hawai'i, which he won twice.
Among the others making their first appearance at Hualālai are Tom Lehman, Senior PGA champ Michael Allen, Mark O'Meara and Nick Price.
Mitsubishi is open to Champions Tour major winners of the last five years, other tournament winners of the last two years and eight sponsor invitees. Invites are reserved for players with a minimum of 30 combined career victories or 15 combined victories with at least one major title.
The 36 golfers in the field have won 477 times. There are seven World Golf Hall of Fame members — Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Gary Player, Curtis Strange, Tom Watson, Price and defending champion Bernhard Langer.
Last year, Langer beat Andy Bean by a shot and went on to win three more times. He swept the tour's major awards for the second straight year. The two-time Masters champ has 70 worldwide victories.