Haas will stick to foes his own age
The top Champions golfer says he's done with the PGA Tour
HUALALAI, Hawaii » Jay Haas is no longer torn between two tours.
Unlike Loren Roberts, his main competitor on the Champions Tour last year, he doesn't plan to use his top-50 all-time money-winner exemption to allow him one final fling on the PGA Tour. After turning 53 last month, Haas sees a narrow enough window on the senior circuit, much less playing with guys half his age.
So for now, the 2006 Champions Tour player of the year is happy knocking it around with players his own age as he and 40 other golfers tee it up today at the $1.7 million MasterCard Championship at Hualalai Golf Club.
"I'm not fully exempt right now on the PGA Tour," Haas said. "I needed to take my top 50 lifetime earnings exemption to play in the Sony Open. I didn't do that. You know, I decided a month or so ago I wasn't going to play in any (PGA Tour events) unless I qualified for a U.S. Open or a PGA, something like that."
Is he leaving the PGA Tour behind?
"Yeah, pretty much so," Haas said. "You know, 30 years, I think that's enough. I enjoyed it last year, I played in only seven events, but I didn't play as well as I wanted to and you know I had a great time playing over here (on the Champions Tour). I want to try to duplicate what I did last year.
"If I do take my exemption, it would obviously be next year. But again, I don't know why I would. You know, there are 29 events out here and I'd like to play most of those. And that's a lot of golf, so at this stage of my career I should be playing less not more and spending more time at home. That's my mind-set right now."
This week's winners-only event is the first Champions Tour tournament of 2007. The first full-field get-together is next week at Turtle Bay. Haas and Roberts will play both as they renew a rivalry that went down to the last event of 2006 to decide who would win the Schwab Cup and the $1 million annuity that goes with it.
Haas beat Roberts by 20 points as both golfers won four tournaments, including a major. A missed 4-footer at the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship by Roberts led to Haas' narrow victory in the season-long Cup series.
Haas is the first person since Hale Irwin in 2002 to win the Jack Nicklaus Trophy for player of the year and the Arnold Palmer Award for finishing first on the money list with $2.42 million. It's an accomplishment Haas is quite proud of as he begins his second full season on the Champions Tour.
"(Being player of the year) means a lot," Haas said. "There's only one of those a year to go around, so it's kind of nice to have my name on that for sure. I'm proud of the fact that happened. Hopefully, I can be in contention this year -- that's my goal. I had that as a goal starting off the year last year. It's no different this year.
"I would love to win some tournaments. I know that the window of opportunity is closing fast. I don't just want to live on what happened last year. I want to continue to go forward. I always think that I have things to prove, mostly to myself, not to anyone else. I just want to prove to myself that I can continue to play well, learn something again every year and try to get better."
Haas will be challenged to do better than he did a year ago. He played in 21 events in 2006, finishing in the top three nine times, top 10 16 times and top 25 19 times to edge Roberts by $54,832. Both won three consecutive events, Roberts in the beginning of the year and Haas in the spring.
His biggest victory in the 50-and-over crowd was at the Senior PGA Championship in May, where he won in a playoff over Brad Bryant. Now, Haas is back in Hawaii, where he finished in a tie for third, three shots behind Roberts.
Roberts, best known for his stellar putting stroke, finished first on tour with an average of 1.726 putts per green. Haas was second at 1.741. Roberts was first on tour in scoring average at 69.01 to win the Byron Nelson Award. Haas was second at 69.07. There's very little separating the two.
"It turned out that everything went my way," Haas said as the season progressed. "I did a lot of good things, won some tournaments, played consistently well all year. I'm looking forward to doing more of that. I don't think I'm done yet. So I hope to get off to a good start again. I've been playing well in practice. I played pretty well in the Skins Game last weekend, so I'm anxious for the tournament to get started and the entire year to get started.
"The course is in wonderful shape again. We haven't had much breeze, a little bit kicking up this afternoon. You know, it's just an unbelievable spot here, MasterCard, everybody treating us like kings. It's pretty hard not to be thrilled to be here. I had a nice offseason and I'm ready to go."