Age happens: injuries sideline 3


POSTED: Thursday, January 22, 2009

KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii» The 2009 season for the senior circuit begins tomorrow without defending champion Fred Funk in the winners-only Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai field. Scott Hoch won't be playing this weekend, either, and neither will Peter Jacobsen.




Mitsubishi Electric Championship

        When: Tomorrow-Sunday

Where: Hualalai Resort Golf Club, Kaupulehu-Kona.


TV: Golf Channel



All three are battling back from injuries that often affect the 50 and older set—bad knee, bad wrist and bad shoulder. Funk had routine arthroscopic surgery last May on his right knee turn into an eight-month nightmare that required even more surgery a few weeks ago, forcing him to miss this weekend's Champions Tour opener.

Hoch has a bad hand and wrist, and Jacobsen underwent surgery on a faulty rotator cuff in his left shoulder and won't be back until spring. Even a couple of golfers who are here on the Big Island aren't sure what the future holds in the coming campaign.

Turtle Bay champion Jerry Pate, who a year ago said he was pain free in his shoulder for the first time in years, went back under the knife last summer on his left shoulder and knee, and will decide tomorrow whether he will be a part of this elite 34-man field. He hasn't played since May.

Legendary Tom Watson is teeing it up for only the second time since August. He had left hip replacement surgery in October and will make his first start in a full-field event since the Walmart First Tee Open. He did take part in last week's Wendy's Champions Skins Game on Maui. He and Jack Nicklaus were teammates, but they didn't win a skin.

Still, Watson was upbeat yesterday after playing in the Pro-Am and announced himself fit for duty.

“;I'm still hitting some scruffy shots because I haven't played that much competitive golf,”; Watson said. “;But I'm here in Hawaii in a place all of us love to be. This is such a beautiful golf course, it's hard to feel bad when you're here.

“;As for my hip surgery, it was more of a life decision than a golf decision. We don't really know how it's going to affect my golf game. That's something we'll just have to wait and see whether it really affects my swing plane. I'm excited to be back on a golf course. That much I can tell you.”;

After MasterCard ended its long relationship with this season-opening tournament, many wondered if the 50 and older crowd would be leaving Hualalai for good. But in the offseason, the tour signed a four-year deal with Mitsubishi Electric and the players are happy to return to this popular Jack Nicklaus-designed course with the immaculate greens.

Funk is the first golfer not to defend his win here since the tournament moved to Hawaii in 1997. Pate won't be able to defend his tittle at Turtle Bay because the Champions Tour was unable to get a title sponsor for the Oahu event. The players were hopeful a second tournament would be played here in the island chain, but in these difficult economic times, there are only 26 official stops in 2009. It's the fewest events on the senior circuit since 1985.

Jay Haas is back to defend the Schwab Cup title he won for the second time last year. Fellow two-time Cup winners Watson and Hale Irwin are in the field this week, as well as 2007 Schwab Cup champion Loren Roberts, who won the first two events in Hawaii two years ago.

Roberts and Jeff Sluman played in the Sony Open in Hawaii last week, but neither made the cut. In 2007, when Paul Goydos managed to win the first full-field event on the PGA Tour in years, Roberts said if Goydos could still swing with the big boys, he could, too. Sluman, who won the first Sony Open in 1999, just missed the cut by one shot at 2-over 142. Roberts missed it by three at 144, but both golfers should benefit by already playing tournament-level golf.