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Course is fit for Champions

Times Staff Writer

It sounds obvious to any golfer: To score low, one must hit a good tee shot, strike a solid iron and then putt well.

But when the players on the Champions Tour talk about Valencia Country Club in the Santa Clarita Valley north of Los Angeles, they say it anyway -- and mean it.

To win at Valencia, designed by noted course architect Robert Trent Jones Sr., there are no shortcuts, no easy holes to recover from wayward shots.

The tour makes its annual stop at Valencia with the AT&T; Champions Classic this weekend, the first of three rounds today. Players begin teeing off at 10:30 a.m.

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“Valencia is one of the strongest courses on the Champions Tour,” said defending winner Tom Kite, who also won the tournament in 2002.

“If you do not have your ‘A’ game when you come to Valencia, then that’s a tough course to play,” he said. “It’s a great test.”

Kite, recovering from flu and laryngitis, nonetheless is among the favorites to win this year’s tournament, which has a $1.6-million purse, including $240,000 to the winner.

Others include previous Valencia champions Gil Morgan (1996, ’97 and 2004), Tom Purtzer (2003), Des Smyth (2005) and Jay Haas, who won last week’s Toshiba Classic at the Newport Beach Country Club.

Then there’s Mark O’Meara, who turned 50 this year and became eligible for the Champions Tour. O’Meara has won 16 times on the PGA Tour and won two majors in 1998, the Masters and the British Open.

O’Meara spent part of his youth in Southern California and played golf at Long Beach State, but he hasn’t played Valencia in decades.

“The last time I played here, it had to be 34 years ago, maybe in a junior tournament,” he said.

“Valencia Country Club is an old-style course and you have to do it all,” he said. “You have to drive the ball well and you have to be accurate with your irons. Then, you have to putt well.”

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Sound familiar?

The par-72 Valencia layout is nearly 7,000 yards long and receives the “old-style” description often.

“It’s really more of an old, traditional-style golf course and I like that,” Morgan said. “You don’t see many homes or condominiums out there, so it really gives you a flair for the traditional.”

Kite, a 19-time PGA Tour winner and former U.S. Open champion, won last year with a score of 12 under, beating Morgan by five shots, the largest winning margin in tournament history.

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According to Kite, the greens are especially tricky at Valencia.

“They are very undulating and have a lot of ridges,” he said. “You need to get [the ball] on the proper section of the green because, if you don’t, you have a tough time getting your lag putts close.”

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Jay Sigel is scheduled to tee off at 12:20 p.m. today in the 12th pairing, but the golfer’s favorite number is the oft-shunned 13.

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Sigel was born on Nov. 13, 1943, and when he won the 1997 Bruno’s Memorial Classic on the Champions Tour, he played in the 13th group the final two rounds. He scored his first hole in one on the 13th hole on July 13.

He also became the 13th player to win both the U.S. and British Amateurs. And his shoe size? 13.

james.peltz@latimes.com


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