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Roberts is boss of all these days

Loren Roberts is golf's latest dynasty, winning three tournaments in three starts to begin the 2006 season on the Champions Tour. Ask anybody associated with the 50-and-older circuit and you will get a knowing nod.

Almost to a man they saw this coming.

It is one thing for a player to be competitive in his late 40s on the regular PGA Tour. And it sure helps to be a steady player.

But throw in Roberts' proficiency with a putter, and he is deadly on senior layouts.

He has the nickname "Boss of the Moss" for good reason.

Roberts, 50, became the first player in Champions Tour history to win the first three tournaments of the year when he captured the ACE Group Classic in Naples. He will try to make it four in a row - and match a Champions Tour record set by Chi Chi Rodriguez in 1987 - when he plays in this week's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at the TPC of Tampa Bay.

"He's done, unfortunately, what I was afraid he was going to do," said Outback defending champion Hale Irwin, who was tied for the lead with Roberts on Sunday in Naples heading to the final hole before a double bogey soaked his chances. "He came right off the regular tour. There is an intensity level that you still have to have, and to see what he can do with a ball on a putting green "

For Roberts, who lives in Memphis but is from San Luis Obispo, Calif., putting has always been his strong suit.

A late bloomer, he turned pro in 1975 but did not make it to the PGA Tour until 1981. He is the rare player today who toiled as a club professional and then made it to the PGA Tour. And Roberts attributes his putting prowess to that time in the pro shop.

Or, uh, when he could sneak out of the pro shop.

After his first year on tour, Roberts didn't earn enough money, so he went back to a club job at Morro Bay Municipal Golf Course in Morro Bay, Calif. It was far from glamorous.

"We had 310 rounds a day, 365 days a year," he said. "They took out all the bunkers on the course to speed up play. It was just a race track, but it was fun. It was one of those jobs that you did a little bit of everything."

In his down time, Roberts worked on his putting. He had never really played golf until his junior year in high school. There was no American Junior Golf Association back then, and Roberts barely played college golf. "I had no pedigree at all," he said.

That's why it took time for him to excel. Roberts had to go back to the PGA Tour's Qualifying Tournament a few times. It wasn't until 1987 that he cracked the $100,000 mark in earnings. And he never posted a runnerup finish until 1992. (This year he has made $755,000 in three Champions Tour starts and $64,260 for his tie for 18th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open.)

Success finally came in 1994 at age 38, when Roberts won what is now the Bay Hill Invitational, shooting a final-round 67 in Orlando to defeat Fuzzy Zoeller, Nick Price and Vijay Singh by a stroke. He had three top-10s in major championships that year, including a playoff defeat at the U.S. Open, where he was tied with Ernie Els and Colin Montgomerie after 72 holes.

Following an 18-hole playoff the next day, Roberts was still tied with Els, finally losing on the 20th hole.

That is the week the nickname was born.

Another tour player, David Ogrin, is given credit for "Boss of the Moss."

"I shot 64 on Saturday to come from nowhere into contention," Roberts recalled. "I don't know how many 25-footers I holed that day, but it was a bunch. I happened to be sitting in the locker room talking to a couple of reporters and he happened to yell at me as he walked through, and somebody put it in an article and it stuck.

"It's nice because you can really get some bad ones out here."

The nickname is well-deserved. For most of the past decade, Roberts has ranked among the top 30 in the PGA Tour's putting statistics. That served him well throughout his 40s as he won six of his eight PGA Tour titles and never finished lower than 93rd on the money list.

That happened to be last year, when he also played six times on the Champions Tour, won the Tradition and finished 16th on the money list.

"I do think eyesight, vision, plays a part in it," Roberts said of his putting. "I've been very lucky that I do have very good eyesight. Some guys who struggle out here probably struggle with eyesight.

"My whole key has been speed control. I just feel if I can focus on speed, trying to get the ball around the hole, you are never ever really going to putt bad. If you are on a green, no matter where you are and you can always two-putt, you are going to save a couple of shots a round. Then you are going to hit it stiff a couple of times, then throw in a 10- or 12-footer once or twice and you shoot 4 under par. If you have speed control you are going to get the ball around the hole. If you don't three-putt, it just breeds your confidence."

And nobody has more of that right now on the Champions Tour than Roberts.