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Monday, January 13, 2003


[ MERCEDES CHAMPIONSHIPS ]



Leaderboard dotted
with graybeards


Els wins Mercedes with ease
Mediate on history's doorstep once again


By Paul Arnett
parnett@starbulletin.com

KAPALUA, Maui >> The old-timers made a little noise during yesterday's final round of the $5 million Mercedes Championship.

True, none of them challenged Ernie Els for the outright lead, but give the 40-somethings some credit, they showed the youngsters how it's done. Chief among them was 1999 Sony Open in Hawaii winner Jeff Sluman, who turned 45 on Sept. 11.

He shot a blistering final-round 64 to finish in a tie for 12th at 19-under par. Not considered a long hitter, equipment changes benefited Sluman, who birdied two of the par-5s on the front side en route to a 30.

"There are a lot of us out here who can still play with these young hitters," Sluman said. "I've really played well the last five or six years. This is one sport where you can still compete in your 40s."

In fact, Sluman has managed five of his six PGA Tour wins since 1997. He shocked the world by winning the 1988 PGA Championship, then didn't manage another victory for nine years.

Gene Sauers knows all about long droughts between victories. The 1989 Sony Open champion had no idea it would be another 13 years before he would win again. He turned that trick at last year's Air Canada Championship, going 245 events between victories.

The 40-year-old credits his years on the Nationwide Tour for helping him find his way back to the PGA. He pocketed $715,605 in only 11 tour tournaments last year, finishing 99th on the money list.

He opened with a 65 on Thursday in his first Mercedes since it moved to Maui. He finished tied for 10th at 20-under-par. Sauers pocketed $125,000 and is well on his way to reviving a career that appeared dead to the world just a few years ago.

"I probably took a little too much time off late last year," Sauers said. "Did a bit of fishing. Went down to the Bahamas, with my oldest son, caught his first white marlin. That was nice to see. I played a little bit just to keep in tune. I didn't want to come over here and feel like it was a broomstick or a rake in my hand."

Raking in the dough is something fellow old boy Nick Price has been doing for years. The South African turns 46 later this month, but still feels like he can play with the flat bellies on certain courses.

The sprawling Plantation Course apparently applies for Price, who played the Mercedes for the first time since it moved to Maui in 1999. Price followed up a ho-hum 75 on Saturday with a solid 66 yesterday to finish in a tie for 21st at 13-under 279. He heads back home this week, knowing he can still compete with the game's elite.

"I think if I go out and play well, I have a chance to still win," said Price, who qualified for the Mercedes by winning the MasterCard Colonial last year. He finished with $2.1 million in earnings in 2002 and made 17 of 18 cuts on tour.

"Length is such a huge advantage for these young guys, especially on this course, where the fairways are so wide," Price said. "You can just stand there and whale on it. Not ideally suited for me, this golf course, but I can still win out here."

Dan Forsman found out he could compete as well. Like Sauers, he went a long way between wins. Last year's victory at the Pennsylvania Classic was 10 years and 246 events removed from his 1992 win at the Buick Open. He tied with Price at 13-under.

Vijay Singh will join the 40-something set later this year. But like many golfers yesterday, he closed hard, finishing in a tie for fourth with a final-round 65, thanks in part to an eagle on the par-5 18th.

"Us old guys, we've still got a little something left," Sluman said of his fellow 40-somethings. "I can only do what I can do off the tee. I get in trouble if I try to hit it too far."

Mercedes Championships



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