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Langer show promise as Champions Tour rookie

LUTZ — Bernhard Langer is one dangerous man on the Champions Tour. Consider that just three months before his 50th birthday last year, he found himself in a playoff with Jim Furyk and Rory Sabbatini in the PGA Tour's Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. He lost to Sabbatini in the playoff, but this was clearly a player going to the senior circuit with a head of steam.

Sure enough, in just his fourth start on the Champions Tour, Langer won the Administaff Small Business Classic in Houston by eight shots. This season, he has won twice, including by eight at the Ginn Championship in Palm Coast in late March.

"My expectation is to play well and be one of the dominant players out here," he said. "So far I'm pretty much where I hope to be."

Langer is like Fred Funk, Loren Roberts and Jay Haas before him, players with solid games on the PGA Tour right up until their 50th birthday who did well in their rookie seasons. He could even be the man to chase the king of all Champions Tour players, Hale Irwin, who has 45 senior titles.

"He's got a short game straight from heaven," fellow 50-year-old Joey Sindelar said. "He's hitting the ball as long or longer than he ever did. I'd put Bernhard at the top of the list of guys who can play out here."

And Langer, who ranks in the top 10 in scrambling, greens in regulation, driving distance and putts per round, expects to be on the senior tour full time. After a 22-year PGA career in which he won the 1985 and '93 Masters, he plans to play only two PGA events this year (he missed the cut at the Masters) and two in Europe. He leads the money list with $894,627 in seven senior events.

More than anything, Langer says he is happy to be playing on courses that suit his game, such as the par-71, 6,783-yard TPC of Tampa Bay.

"I was competitive (on the PGA) on some of the shorter courses," he said. "But there were a lot more courses where I felt it was too tough. There are some courses out there that are ridiculously long. I felt I was already five shots behind. I would have to play brilliant golf out there just to finish in the top 10. The courses out here on the Champions Tour suit me better. These are the kind of courses 50- and 60-year-olds should be playing on."

Golf junkie

For those who wish they could quit their jobs and play golf every day, Dana Quigley is your man. Quigley's job is to play golf, and when he's not playing competitively, he's playing even more golf at home in West Palm Beach. Quigley, 61, is the tour's "ironman." The Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am is his 356th tournament since joining the tour in 1997.

In 1998-2000, Quigley played in every Champions Tour event. He has played in every Outback Pro-Am since he has been eligible. The only event he plans to skip this year is the Senior British Open because he hates the weather and the food. But even that week, Quigley will be playing golf somewhere.

"I'll play 36 to 54 holes per day," said Quigley, who has 11 Champions Tour wins. "There was a stretch where I played every day from November through Jan. 15. My club was closed on Christmas, but my wife and I went to play another course. We do that every year.

"There isn't a day of the week that I wake up and don't want to play golf. I can't wait to get to the golf course. I've been told by some people that playing golf every day isn't good, that I'll lose my drive when I'm in competition. I don't believe that. I think it's good for me to play every day."

Five to watch

Jay HaAs: Granted, the South Carolina resident is 0-for-110 in Florida, but he finished a shot behind Tom Watson last year when Watson ended his 0-for-93 streak in Florida. Haas, 54, has won 10 times in three-plus years on the Champions Tour. He has five top-10 finishes in six events this year. He has to be considered.
Ian Woosnam: He has only played twice on the senior circuit this season, but he made the cut at the Masters last weekend. That shows his game is in shape. The Welshman, 50, is a solid ball striker, and that bodes well on TPC of Tampa Bay.
Jeff Sluman: The tour rookie has 11 starts dating to 2007, but no wins. His best finish this season was a tie for sixth at the Ace Group Classic in Naples, so he can play in Florida. It's just a matter of time before the holder of six PGA Tour titles breaks through as a senior.
Bernhard Langer: The native of Germany has won once in Florida. He has the length and short game to play well at TPC of Tampa Bay. It's a sure bet that Langer will be near the top come Sunday.
Loren Roberts: Roberts, 52, tied for fourth last year, and he always seems to be in the hunt. Since joining the Champions Tour with six events left in 2005, he has won seven times and finished in the top 10 41 times.
Here to stay

Joey Sindelar has been grinder his entire 24-year PGA Tour career. Along the way there have been seven career wins and more than $11-million earned. But there was always the pressure of keeping his playing card. Now that Sindelar has made it to the Champions Tour by virtue of his all-time PGA earnings, he can stay as long as he wants. And it's a unique feeling.

"It's a strange thing to think about the fact that they can't kick me out for not making the cut," Sindelar, who turned 50 on March 30, said. "They can't make me lose my job for at least a bunch of years. It's a different thing than I'm used to. It's still strange to me that this is what I'm going to be doing. Strange in a fun way, because it's so different."

They said it

"I couldn't name 20 guys on the (PGA) Tour now. All of my buddies that are my age have a hard time following the tour, too. I'm not knocking the tour, we just didn't grow up watching those guys."

Champions Tour
rookie Mark Wiebe
Local flavor

There are two Tampa residents in the field: Jim Dent and Gary Koch. Dent, 68, is making his 19th appearance at TPC of Tampa Bay. His best finish was a tie for third in 2000. He has played in only two other tournaments this season. Koch, 55, is playing in his fifth Outback. This is his first appearance since 2006.

Rodney Page can be reached at Page@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8810.

>>FAST FACTS

Outback Pro-Am

What: A 54-hole
Champions Tour event

When/where: Friday-Sunday; TPC Tampa Bay, Lutz

Details, 2C

Langer show promise as Champions Tour rookie 04/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2008 7:18am]
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