The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was aglow with early-evening sunlight as players resumed their third round at the Players Championship last Saturday, and from atop the TV tower behind the fourth green you could see almost everyone playing the wrong, right-to-left shot shape to the far-right pin placement. Then there was David Toms, 44, who hit his natural fade into the tucked pin and watched his ball land and hop backward and to the right, settling about five feet from the cup. He looked like he knew how to play a shot the other guys didn't. Alas, he failed to even scare the hole with his birdie putt — in retrospect foreshadowing his fatal miss the next day.
The chatter on Tour these days is that an older, perhaps 50-plus player is bound to win again on the PGA Tour, and soon. This, after Toms nearly won the Players; Paul Goydos 46, came in third; Davis Love III, 47, hovered around the lead all weekend; and Mark O'Meara, 54, fired an opening-round 66. "I know you're all shocked," O'Meara told the press afterward. But were we really?
Eight members of the Champions Tour will play in this week's Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, which is a lot for a PGA Tour event, but the oldies circuit is dark until next week's Senior PGA Championship. Like the Masters and the British Open, the Crowne Plaza reveres its past champions. Seven of the eight are former winners at Colonial: Olin Browne, Keith Clearwater, David Frost, Tom Lehman, Corey Pavin, Kenny Perry and Tom Purtzer. Mark Brooks, the eighth Champions tourist, got a late sponsor's exemption when Tim Clark withdrew. A 7,204-yard, par-70 course that rewards craft more than brawn, Colonial was the 12th easiest course on Tour last year and would seem to be a perfect place for one of the above to win.
"If Tom Lehman or Corey or one of them were to win this week, I wouldn't be remotely surprised," Goydos said Tuesday, citing Tom Watson's near-miss at the 2009 British Open at Turnberry, where he failed to get up and down on 18 and lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink.
A great round like O'Meara's is good column fodder, but four good rounds by a senior is a much rarer thing. Six men have won on Tour at 50 or older. Sam Snead was the oldest, at 52 years, 10 months and eight days when he won the '65 Greater Greensboro Open. Fred Funk was the most recent at 50 years, eight months and 11 days when he won the 2007 Mayakoba Classic.
There are several reasons why the oldies don't win more often on Tour. The first is that stringing four good-to-decent rounds together gets harder with age. (The Champions circuit holds mostly 54-hole events.) So does making a four-foot putt with the world watching and a pile of money on the line. Rain delays don't help. Hilly courses don't help. Sciatica doesn't help. And yet every so often a player defies his age, and we buy in because we all want to peak at 59.
"Even though I'm 54, I feel like I hit it just as well as I did when I was 38," O'Meara said at the Players, but he struggled mightily after his 66, carding rounds of 74-79-77 to finish 74th, last among those who made the cut.
Love shot a final-round 73 to tie for 12th. Pavin and Perry made the cut but didn't do much else, finishing T45 and T39, respectively.
Rocco Mediate, who will turn 50 in December of 2012, tied for 54th.
With the astounding depth in today's game, one could argue that the 50-and-over set are in fact less likely to win these days. Before this season began, few would have predicted two victories from Mark Wilson, and fewer still would have been able to positively ID winners Martin Laird, Charl Schwartzel, Brendan Steele, Jhonattan Vegas and Gary Woodland.
Then there are the stars we know about.
Colonial member Jason Day, 23, finished fourth at the '09 Crowne Plaza and looks exceedingly dangerous coming into this week, considering his tie for second at the Masters and final-round 68 (T6) at the Players. Defending Crowne Plaza champion Zach Johnson finished T12 at the Players and T6 at the Wells Fargo. Rory Sabbatini, who won at Colonial in '07 and had top-10s in '05 and '03, already has a win this year, took third at Quail Hollow and hung around for a while at the Players.
If a senior or near senior is to break through, then the most likely candidate might be Lehman, the 1995 champion at Colonial. At 52, he's playing ridiculously well, finishing second, first, T17, first, T17, T3 and first on the senior tour so far this year. Having abandoned his desperate flirtations with the belly- and long-putter, he's settled down on the greens.
"I haven't really changed anything in my swing since I was about 18," said Lehman, who made the cut in his two previous starts on Tour this year, in Phoenix (T37) and Mayakoba (T13). "I'm not trying to hit heroic shots. I'm just trying to play to my strengths."
Maybe that will be enough to win one of these weeks on Tour. It would be a nice little story.
Six of top nine play Volvo World Match Play
Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer are among the top-ranked players who will compete in the 24-man Volvo World Match Play in Spain, where the 24 players have initially been divided into eight groups for round-robin play.
Donald is coming off a T4 at the Players and has not finished out of the top 10 on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut at the Northern Trust on Feb. 20 — a streak of seven events that includes his win at the WGC-Accenture Match Play.
Jay Haas Sr. and Jr. host Nationwide event
If the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua is the toughest field to get into, the Nationwide Tour's BMW Charity Pro-Am might be the easiest. Spread out over three courses, with Thornblade Club in Greer, S.C., as the host, the BMW makes use of 168 pros for its Crosby Clambake-like celebrity format.
It's the largest field in a PGA Tour-sponsored event this year.
Among the celebrities scheduled to appear are Wayne Gretzky and Janet Jones-Gretzky, Greg Kinnear and Cheech Marin.
Jay Haas is a longtime Thornblade member and PGA Tour veteran who now plays on the Champions tour. Jay Jr. got into the field via a qualifier.
Sybase Match Play has weather problems
The weather in the New York area resembles the weather in a car wash, and the 64-player LPGA Sybase Match Play Championship has already cancelled its Wednesday pro-am because of saturation at Hamilton Farm Golf Club.
Nine of the top 10 players in the Rolex Ranking are scheduled to play.
Craig Stadler, Pavin, Lehman, Peter Jacobsen, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Woodland, Bo Van Pelt and Mediate will play in the Patriot Cup charity pro-am in Tulsa, Okla., May 28-30. Proceeds support the Folds of Honor Foundation, which awards scholarships to families of soldiers who have been disabled or killed. ... Steve Pate will turn 50 the same day he makes his Champions Tour debut at the Senior PGA Championship, next Thursday. ... K.J. Choi turns 41 Thursday. ... Paul Goydos, Charley Hoffman and Kevin Na are tied at nine under par, just a shot behind leader Bill Lunde in the Kodak Challenge. This week's hole is the par-3 13th, the signature hole at Colonial, which calls for a forced carry over water to a two-tiered green. Goydos aced the hole with a 5-iron last year.