It's always fun to pick a winner. It's more fun when the pick is right.
Every year, I try to pick the winner of the Toshiba Classic. I've been doing it for the past six years. Only once did I get it right: Fred Couples in 2010.
This year, I've decided to play it safe and name five contenders who have the clearest shot of winning the 19th annual tournament that takes place at Newport Beach Country Club from March 11 to 17.
To be fair, I will make one pick, but to cover my bases, so to speak, I'll name my top five contenders.
Tom Lehman — The contenders must include Lehman, who is the back-to-back Player of the Year on the Champions Tour. Lehman finished tied for 22nd last year. But he showed he's capable of finishing near the top when he was tied for third in 2010. Toshiba Classic defending champion Loren Roberts is not on my contenders list. Even Roberts knows that Lehman is the man to beat. Roberts says the stats don't lie, Lehman is the best on the Champions Tour (but he's still not my pick).
Bernhard Langer — The German knows how to play at Newport Beach. He won the Toshiba Classic in 2008 and finished tied for second with Tom Kite and Mark Calcavecchia last year. Langer already won this year, collecting his 17th victory on the Champion Tour at the ACE Group Classic Feb. 17. His 17 Champions Tour wins is 15th all-time in tour history. Langer has not finished outside of the top three in his first three starts this year. He has been among the top 10 in his last seven events, as well as in the top-10 in 17 of his last 18 tournaments dating back to late March of 2012. He is the early leader in the Charles Schwab Cup points race that he won in 2010.
Fred Couples — If Couples is not the overwhelming pick to win the Toshiba Classic, he is definitely the fans' favorite at Newport Beach. He won't be hard to find on the course on Pacific Coast Highway. He'll be the one with the big gallery following him. Those fans will help provide momentum for Couples, whose ball-striking is capable of being the best on the Champions Tour when he is healthy. Couples, who spent a time in his life as a Newport Beach resident, was the Toshiba Classic champion in 2010. He tied for eighth last year and tied for fifth in 2011.
Rocco Mediate — The Champions Tour "rookie" didn't waste any time earning his first victory in his debut at the Allianz Championship at Broken Sound in Boca Raton, Fla. Feb. 10. More than four years have passed since his memorable U.S. Open battle with Tiger Woods, but Rocco continues to draw fame from that event. Truth be told, he always be remembered for those moments against Tiger.
John Cook — The 55-year-old is no stranger to Newport Beach, as he owns a home in Corona del Mar and spends a great deal of time throughout the year in the area. Cook is seeking his 10th win on the Champions Tour and his second victory of year. He is second in the Charles Schwab Cup race. He won the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai to open the year. Cook is my pick to win the 19th annual Toshiba Classic.