PGA MASTERCARD CHAMPIONSHIP
Roberts out to make history
The MasterCard champ hopes to become the first to repeat at Hualalai
HUALALAI, Hawaii » Just because you win the $1.7 million MasterCard Championship at Hualalai doesn't mean you will defend it.
Despite a performance for the ages last year for Loren Roberts, he's well aware matching that 25-under finish will be difficult. In fact, he won't even think about it, but wasn't aware there has been no successful title defense in the decade this winners-only tournament has been played at Hualalai Golf Club.
"Well, good, maybe it's time to break the tradition," Roberts said. "You gotta go low, here. That's probably it. Obviously, last year might have been a little blip on the radar screen. But we'll see.
"The golf course is playing perfect, with no wind. It played shorter today than it did in the practice round yesterday. It's drying out a little bit. If we don't get some rain, I think 62s and 63s are going to be all over the scoreboard."
Roberts stunned everyone, including himself, with his one-shot victory over Don Pooley in 2006 by sinking a 30-foot birdie putt at the 18th. His 25-under 191 total matched the lowest 54-hole score in Champions Tour history and established the all-time best score in relation to par.
MASTERCARD CHAMPIONSHIP TEE TIMES
At Hualalai Golf Club, Hawaii
First round, tomorrow
9:49 a.m.: Pete Oakley
9:58: John Harris, Ron Streck
10:07: John Jacobs, David Eger
10:25: Ben Crenshaw, Lanny Wadkins
10:34: Bob Gilder, David Edwards
10:43: Bobby Wadkins, Eduardo Romero
10:52: Gary Player, Raymond Floyd
11:01: Craig Stadler, Scott Simpson
11:10: Morris Hatalsky, Mark Johnson
11:19: Andy Bean, Brad Bryant
11:28: Gil Morgan, Tom Purtzer
11:37: Hale Irwin, Jay Haas
11:46: Allen Doyle, Dana Quigley
11:55: Tom Kite, Loren Roberts
12:04 p.m.: Tom Jenkins, Bruce Lietzke
12:13: Jerry Pate, Peter Jacobsen
12:22: Tom Watson, Fred Funk
12:31: Fuzzy Zoeller, Jim Thorpe
12:40: D.A. Weibring, Mark McNulty
12:49: Mike Reid, Stewart Ginn
"You've got to throw it out and start over," Roberts said when asked how his score of a year ago will help or hurt. "This year, the rough is a little deeper, but the fairways are very generous. If you just drive the ball in the fairway you're going to make some birdies because the greens are so pure here that if you just get it around the hole, you're going to make birdies here."
The 51-year-old went on to win the opening full-field event at Turtle Bay and The Ace Group Classic in Florida to become the first of the senior set to win the opening three tournaments of the season. His fourth and final victory of 2006 was the Senior British Open Championship.
In 21 events, he was out of the top 25 only once and managed 18 top-10 appearances overall, including runner-up finishes at the Allianz Championship and the SAS Championship. Had he sunk a 4-foot putt at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, he would have cashed in on the $1 million annuity.
A rare miss on the putting surface cost him to lose the Charles Schwab Cup seasonlong race by a scant 20 points to Jay Haas. Still, he received a $500,000 annuity for finishing second. He also was second on the money list to Haas with $2.37 million in prize money and had to watch Haas receive the Jack Nicklaus Trophy given to the Champions Tour player of the year.
"I played pretty consistent all year," Roberts said. "The first part of the year I did everything right. I putted really well. I think I got a little tired at the end of the year with a lot of things going on. It was a hard-fought year. I enjoyed being at the Ryder Cup (as an assistant for Tom Lehman), and being involved with that. That did take its toll out of me because it's a pretty stressful week, even if you're not playing.
"Jay and I were going back and forth all year long. I'm not going to look at it as a disappointment, but obviously I would have liked to have won the Schwab Cup. It was still a very positive year for me."
Haas had a stretch where he won three consecutive events last year as well, including the Senior PGA Championship, his first Champions Tour major in 90 starts. Haas is in town to see if he can upset Roberts' plans of winning back-to-back titles here and renew their rivalry.
Not since Hale Irwin turned the trick in 2002 did someone manage to win the Nicklaus trophy for player of the year and the Arnold Palmer Award for leading the tour in money pocketed. Haas did that last year to take a little of the sting out of Roberts' early run.
And they aren't the only two to watch in this expanded 41-man field.
Eligibility for this first event on the 2007 Champions Tour that begins tomorrow is a little different than the format used in the PGA Tour's Mercedes-Benz Championship. To qualify, you have to have won a tournament over the last two years, have won a major over the last five years, or be one of four sponsor choices to exempt players with either a minimum of 15 combined career victories, who also have a minimum of one major championship win.
The four this year are Ben Crenshaw, Raymond Floyd, Gary Player and Lanny Wadkins. Eight newcomers will also begin touring the Nicklaus-designed par-72 course where you have to go low to win. They are Andy Bean, Brad Bryant, David Edwards, Fred Funk, John Harris, Jerry Pate, Eduardo Romero and Scott Simpson.
There have been only four golfers who have managed to win it twice, including Dana Quigley (2003 and 2005). He's the only one of that foursome to be playing this week. There are still seven guys in the field who have won the MasterCard Championship at Hualalai. They are Quigley, Roberts, Irwin, John Jacobs, Tom Kite, Gil Morgan and Fuzzy Zoeller.
Those guys are part of a winning scoring average that forces you to check your bifocals to be sure you don't need an adjustment. Over the last six years, no winner has had a round of 70 or higher. Since the tournament moved to Hawaii in 1997, only Irwin had a round over par, opening with a 73. The average winning score since 2001 has been 19.5 under par.
Quigley is still king of the Big Island event, although Irwin has the most consecutive appearances coming in with 11. Not only has Quigley won twice, but he has six top-10 finishes here worth $1,040,875. Morgan has pocketed $682,779 in nine appearances and Irwin has $660,437.