Thursday, January 21, 1999
Senior Tour in
the swing again
The Sr. PGA's Tournament ofBy Bill Kwon
Champions on the Big Island
starts its season
Now on the tee -- the Senior PGA Tour.
Like the PGA Tour, which made its 1999 debut in the Mercedes Championships at Kapalua, Maui, the Senior Tour will begin its season tomorrow with its version of the tournament of champions called the MasterCard Championship at the Hualalai Resort Golf Course on the Big Island.
There are a few differences, including the title, which is pluralized for the Mercedes event featuring the "flat bellies," as Lee Trevino called those playing on the regular tour, and isn't for the MasterCard event.
That difference might not be as obvious as disparity in the prize money. David Duval won the Mercedes to pocket $468,000. The MasterCard champion will get $185,000.
Not that this and every week's co-favorites -- Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan -- are complaining, mind you.
Irwin collected $2.86 million in 1998, a single-season record for any tour, while Morgan won $2.17 million, which was more money than anyone on the regular tour except for Duval and Vijay Singh, who finished one-two on the PGA Tour money list.
The biggest change, though, as far as the MasterCard Championship is concerned, is that it'll have the largest field ever with 35 players.
Previously, the event involved only the previous year's tournament winners, a qualifying requisite similar to the Mercedes Championships.
For the first time, the MasterCard field will include winners from the last two years as well the senior major champions within the last five years.
Without that new wrinkle, there would have been only 22 golfers qualifying for this year's event because of the number of multiple winners, notably Irwin and Morgan, who had combined to win 13 of the 38 official-money Senior Tour events in 1998.
So with its strongest field based on increased numbers, the MasterCard Championship won't be just an Irwin-Morgan show running through Sunday.
The field will also include Larry Nelson, who won three tournaments in 1998, and two-time winners Isao Aoki, who tuned up last week in the Sony Open, Dana Quigley, Hugh Baiocchi and Jay Sigel, who won the EMC Kaanapali Classic.
Also entered are former tournament winners George Archer (1990), Jim Colbert (1995) and Bruce Crampton (1991). Crampton will be the oldest player at 65 years, 3 months and 25 days on Friday to compete in the event.
Jack Nicklaus and Jack Kiefer, who were both eligible for the event, withdrew because of medical reasons. Nicklaus will be undergoing hip replacement, while Kiefer is battling cancer.
Morgan is defending the MasterCard title, setting a tournament record 21-under-par with a 54-hole total of 195 to beat Irwin and Gibby Gilbert by six strokes.
Both Morgan and Irwin posted a Hualalai course-record round of 64 last year under easy conditions, which were nowhere near that in 1997 when the event was played at the Kona Coast resort for the first time. Strong winds made scoring difficult as Irwin won with a 7-under 209.
MasterCard ChampionshipWhat: Senior PGA Tournament of Champions.
When: Tomorrow, 7 a.m.; Saturday, 7:30 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.
Where: Hualalai Resort Golf Course (Par 72, 7,053 yards), Big Island.
Purse: $1.1 million ($186,000 first place).
TV Coverage: ESPN -- Friday, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.; Saturday noon to 2 p.m.; Sunday, 3 to 5 p.m.