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Winning is old hat for Mark O’Meara as PGA Tour Champions hits Newport Beach

Mark O'Meara hits his drive on the 17th hole during the first round of the Chubb Classic at The Classics at Lely Resort on February 15, 2019 in Naples, Florida.
(Michael Cohen / Getty Images)

The balance of power on the PGA Tour Champions circuit appears to have shifted as the rebranded Hoag Classic gets underway Friday at Newport Beach Country Club.

Bernhard Langer, 61, and Mark O’Meara, 62, have notched wins, marking just the fifth time two players age 60 or more have won a Champions event in the same season. And this weekend’s three-round event is only the fifth stop on the tour, which is open to players 50 or more.

Newport Beach resident Fred Couples, who turns 60 on Oct. 3, will have opportunities to join that group because the Charles Schwab Cup playoffs begin on Oct. 18. But he is not peering that far into the future … yet.

“I’m not looking at an age yet, because I still feel like I hit the ball pretty firm and far, but I think for most of us, when we start to lose distance, then we start thinking, ‘Oh god. I’m 63, or 4 or 5,’ ” Couples said. “That’ll come. Hopefully, it doesn’t come for a couple more years.”

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Although slowed by back pain over his career, Couples is aiming to increase his course time ahead of the Masters.

“This year, I’m trying to play a little more leading up to Augusta, and then I’ll probably take a lot of time off,” Couples said. “I’m trying to pace myself so I feel like Augusta will be a good week.”

Couples, who won this tournament in 2010 and 2014, will be in a group that includes O’Meara and Jay Haas, another two-time winner, in 2007 and 2016.

Tom Lehman, who won the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship, will be joined by Darren Clarke and David Toms in a group of former major champions. Other past champions include David Frost (2013) and Duffy Waldorf (2015).

Paul Goydos, 54, said that he would like to play into his 60s. The Long Beach State alumnus believes career longevity provided via the tour is a draw for fans.

“You can keep following your — for lack of a better word — heroes in our game for a lot longer period of time,” Goydos said. “It’s turned out to be the fans like that.”

The oldest average age of tournament champions was 54.67 in 2017, when Langer won seven titles, four at 59 and three at 60.

Goydos acknowledged that Langer and O’Meara might represent exceptions to the rule on this tour, but increased knowledge and preparation have allowed players to discover ways to extend careers.

“I remember when I first came out here, maybe when I was in my 40s, they talked about your window was 50 to 55,” Goydos said. “Now, I’ve heard 57 and there’s a precipitous drop.”

At the Hoag Classic’s kickoff event, Breakfast with a Champion, Clarke said he was pleased with his reception as a newcomer to the tour.

“The welcome that you get from all of those guys out there was meaningful,” Clarke said to those in attendance. “They weren’t saying it just to say it. They actually meant it because they see the Champions Tour as they want it to get bigger and they want the support of people like yourselves.”

The tournament includes six Hall of Famers — Colin Montgomerie, Sandy Lyle, Tom Kite, José María Olazábal, Couples and O’Meara. The field also boasts 15 players with PGA Tour major victories, including the always-entertaining John Daly.

O’Meara won the Cologuard Classic last week to end an eight-year, four-month and 21-day drought between victories. At 62 years, one month, 17 days, he is the fourth-oldest winner in the history of the tour.

“The golf ball doesn’t know how old you are,” O’Meara said. “Only you do, and I know. Luckily my health’s been pretty good, and it’s just been a motivation thing, so maybe this will help motivate.”


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