Tour Comes Out of Slumber

Times Staff Writer

The professional golf tour that belongs to the players who are at least 50 entered a brave new world in 2003, which probably would serve as more than enough headline news for a circuit that usually doesn't make much.

But if you're looking for turning points in the long and increasingly boring history of what used to be the Senior PGA Tour, then this year had it all.

Craig Stadler turned 50 in June, won the Ford Senior Players Championship on the old-guy tour and then came back and won the B.C. Open on the young-guy tour.

Tom Watson won two old-guy tour majors and was second in two others. And that wasn't the best thing he did.

Hale Irwin once again proved more dependable than one of those car batteries, washing machines or bloodhounds.

Bruce Lietzke won more money without really caring about playing than anyone in the history of golf.

Once again, there was some buzz about Larry Nelson, who returned to the winner's circle with a victory at Baltimore, where he closed out his triumph after being stung on a finger by a bee.

Of course, there was more to the happenings of the over-50 generation, which has for a period of time been mired in appreciation envy with the youngsters on the PGA Tour, a sizable gap highlighted by how they are perceived -- one group with Generation X and another with Mr. X.

Thank you, Miller Barber, for all you've done.

But to begin with, there came the requisite face-lift, or to be more accurate, the name-lift, because everybody knows the first responsibility of a brand-new team is to change the uniforms. In this case, it was the name of the uniforms.

The Senior PGA Tour became the Champions Tour, and just like that, it was a year to remember.

Stadler hadn't won since the 1996 Nissan Open, but when he showed up in Dearborn, Mich., for the Ford Senior Players Championship a month after he turned 50, he acted as if he had forgotten all that. He won it.

Then, a month after that, when the PGA Tour stopped for the B.C. Open while the British Open was being played, Stadler tried his luck again. It was still good. He made up eight shots on Sunday with a closing 63, and his 21-under 267 was one shot off the tournament record.

So, someone asked him, does life really begin at 50?

"Well, it's not bad so far," said Stadler, who became the first player to win on the Champions Tour and follow it with a victory on the PGA Tour in the same year.

Even though he had a late start, Stadler played 14 times and was 14th on the money list with $1.192 million.

The leader in the chase of cash was Watson, who also played 14 times but won $1.85 million. And when he was second to Jim Thorpe at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, the season-ending tour championship, Watson had piled up enough points for the season to earn a $1-million annuity ... which he promptly donated to research for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in honor of his caddie, Bruce Edwards.

"What I'd like to do is help my buddy out," Watson said. "And people like him, so we can find a cure."

The story of the year was the Watson-Edwards saga, the 54-year-old superstar and his 48-year-old caddie, who learned in January that he had Lou Gehrig's disease.

On the course, Lietzke showed up for work 22 times and made a career-high $1.6 million.

"We have a great bunch of guys out here and we're having a great time," Lietzke said. "The money is unreal."

And how about the Champions Tour producing a stirring year? The word for that event is unexpected.

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2003 CHAMPIONS TOUR RESULTS

*--* Date Tournament Champion Jan. 20 -- 26 The Skins Game Lee Trevino Jan. 27 - Feb. 2 MasterCard Championship Dana Quigley Feb. 3 - 9 Royal Caribbean Golf Classic Dave Barr Feb. 10 - 16 The ACE Group Classic Vicente Fernandez Feb. 17 - 23 Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am Bruce Fleisher March 3 - 9 MasterCard Classic David Eger March 10 - 16 SBC Classic Tom Purtzer March 17 - 23 Toshiba Senior Classic Rodger Davis April 14 - 20 Emerald Coast Classic Bob Gilder April 21 - 27 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf Bruce Lietzke April 28 - May 4 Bruno's Memorial Classic Tom Jenkins May 5 - 11 Kinko's Classic of Austin Hale Irwin May 12 - 18 Bayer Advantage Celebrity Pro-Am Jay Sigel May 19 - 25 Columbus Southern Open Morris Hatalsky May 26 - June 1 Music City Championship at Jim Ahern Gaylord Opryland June 2 - 8 Senior PGA Championship John Jacobs June 16 - 22 Farmers Charity Classic Doug Tewell June 23 - 29 U.S. Senior Open Bruce Lietzke July 7 - 13 Ford Senior Players Championship Craig Stadler July 21 - 27 Senior British Open Tom Watson July 28 - Aug. 3 FleetBoston Classic Allen Doyle Aug. 4 - 10 3M Championship Wayne Levi Aug. 11 - 17 Long Island Classic Jim Thorpe Aug. 18 - 24 Allianz Championship Don Pooley Aug. 25 - 31 JELD-WEN Tradition Tom Watson Sept. 1 - 7 Kroger Classic Gil Morgan Sept. 8 - 14 Constellation Energy Classic Larry Nelson Sept. 15 - 21 SAS Championship D.A. Weibring Sept. 22- 28 Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Craig Stadler Barn Oct. 6 - 12 Turtle Bay Championship Hale Irwin Oct. 13 - 19 SBC Championship Craig Stadler Oct. 20 - 26 Charles Schwab Cup Championship Jim Thorpe

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MONEY LEADERS

*--* Rank Player Events Money 1 Tom Watson 14 $1,853,108 2 Jim Thorpe 30 $1,830,306 3 Gil Morgan 25 $1,620,206 4 Bruce Lietzke 22 $1,610,826 5 Hale Irwin 22 $1,607,391 6 Tom Kite 27 $1,549,819 7 Tom Jenkins 30 $1,415,503 8 Larry Nelson 24 $1,365,973 9 Allen Doyle 30 $1,349,272 10 Bruce Fleisher 29 $1,306,013 11 Dana Quigley 31 $1,303,304

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TOP-10 FINISHES

*--* Rank Player Events Top 10 1 Tom Jenkins 30 15 2 Gil Morgan 25 14 2 Jim Thorpe 30 14 4 Allen Doyle 30 13 4 Hale Irwin 22 13 6 Tom Kite 27 12 6 Dana Quigley 31 12 8 Larry Nelson 24 11 8 Tom Purtzer 24 11 10 Bruce Fleisher 29 10 10 Des Smyth 23 10

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