TURTLE BAY CHAMPIONSHIP
Turtle Bay seniors field loaded with talent
STORY SUMMARY »
The $1.6 million Turtle Bay Championship is the first full-field event on the Champions Tour and is packed with talented players old and new.
Turtle Bay Championship
» When: Tomorrow-Sunday.
» Where: Turtle Bay Resort's Palmer Course
» TV: Golf Channel, 1-4 p.m. Hawaii time tomorrow, 2:30-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Starting with Lee Trevino at 68 and right down to 50-year-olds John Cook and Bernhard Langer, fans of the senior set have an era full of talent to cheer for this weekend in what could be the final Champions Tour event played at the resort.
Fred Funk is the defending champion after setting a senior tour record for largest margin of victory. He beat five golfers tied for second by 11 shots, including Tom Kite and 2006 champion Loren Roberts. Funk also has to contend with the likes of Cook and Langer; both managed top-10 finishes at last week's winners-only MasterCard Championship won by Funk.
"I'm looking forward to coming back and playing at a tournament where I had a lot of success," Funk said. "I've got some good memories here to draw on."
So do a lot of other golfers in the field, including Hale Irwin. He has won this event since it was played on Maui six times, including the first four held at the Arnold Palmer-designed course that so suits his game. Roberts ended his streak with a win two years ago and looks to play well here once again.
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If recent history is any indication, the winner of this week's $1.6 million Turtle Bay Championship won't work up much of a sweat.
Defending champion Fred Funk won last year's event by a Champions Tour-record 11 strokes. Hale Irwin's five-shot victory in 2005 was also the widest margin that year in a 54-hole tournament, giving you an idea of what may lie ahead.
Right now, Fred Funk is the hottest thing going in the island chain. He concludes his Hawaii Slam this Sunday at the Arnold Palmer-designed course that suits his game much like it did Irwin during his amazing run of five consecutive titles.
Funk won the season-opening MasterCard Championship at Hualalai last week after managing a top-10 finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii and a 25th-place effort at the Mercedes-Benz Championship to start the PGA Tour season. After visiting three islands and playing his favorite of the four remarkably different courses this weekend, Funk has to be the prohibitive favorite.
"It was a goal of mine last year to play in all four of these events and I've got to tell you, it's been a lot of fun for me and my family," Funk said.
The fondest memory of his Turtle Bay win was walking down the 18th fairway and asking his caddie what he should hit into the par-5 closing hole that's guarded by water across the front of the narrow green. Holding an insurmountable lead his caddie told him, "Anything you want to."
He'd like nothing better than to complete his four-week performance here with another convincing win. Funk tracked down Allen Doyle -- who held a four-shot advantage with 11 holes to play -- and punctuated his comeback with a chip-in birdie from 20 feet at the 17th and a remarkable shot from a fairway bunker that led to another birdie at the last to seal the deal.
The 51-year-old doesn't have two-time defending Champions Tour Player of the Year Jay Haas to worry about. Haas is playing in only 24 tournaments this year and is not in the field. But don't let that fool you. There are plenty of talented guys out here this week visiting the northern tip of the island who can take the trophy and the $240,000 first-place check out of Funk's hands.
And that includes tour rookies Bernhard Langer and John Cook. Both had respectable performances at last week's winners-only event. Langer finished his first tour of the Jack Nicklaus-designed course by birdieing the final three holes to share third with Haas, some four shots off Funk's pace.
Cook closed with a 66 to finish in sixth, six shots back, and like Funk, has had success here before. He won the 1992 United Airlines Hawaiian Open and had a chance at victory again at Waialae a decade later, but an ill-timed cell-phone call to a fan by the 17th tee ended that dream for Cook.
He already expressed how excited he is about the coming campaign at a conference call last week, and said yesterday that he's always enjoyed competing in the island chain. What makes it even better is playing again with old friends.
"The guys have been great," said Cook, who turned 50 in October, winning the AT&T in only his second Champions Tour start. "It's very competitive -- that's like always, that hasn't changed. They're good, old friends that we've had a lot of battles with and against. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't.
"It's good to see them again, and their families. Last week at Hualalai was a great place to start. The resort is phenomenal and the golf course is really good. It was in outstanding shape and the weather couldn't be better. I want to keep that one on the schedule. I love the course here and I love playing in the wind. I've always done well in Hawaii. Good memories."
Cook is just one of several solid golfers who has a chance to win this weekend. Also in the field is 68-year-old Lee Trevino. He'll tell you his body is in bad shape, the back is out, the hip hurts, there's tingling in his toes when he walks, but Trevino can still play a mean game of golf.
The Merry Mex finished last at the MasterCard, but still pocketed $10,000 and was only 1 over for the tournament. He shot 1 under to start his round on Friday, and could be making his final appearance on Oahu if this tournament is played somewhere else in 2009.
Irwin won the 2007 MasterCard title, but didn't defend it as well as he would have liked. Never in the tournament, Irwin finished in a tie for 30th, 15 strokes in back of Funk. At last year's Turtle Bay Championship, Irwin tied for 28th, 17 shots behind Funk, giving you the idea that a torch has passed.
Funk wasn't ready to assume Irwin's throne just yet, especially with both of these tournaments in jeopardy. MasterCard ended its 12-year relationship with the Champions Tour this week and Turtle Bay remains without a title sponsor, leaving both in precarious spots as the 2009 schedule takes shape.