CONOVER, N.C. (AP) — R.W. Eaks admits he’s had a terrible year on the PGA Champions Tour.
The good news is he’s the two-time defending champion heading into the Greater Hickory Classic, which begins Friday on the Rock Barn Golf and Spa course.
“I’ve absolutely played awful this year, there’s no bones about it,” Eaks said. “My confidence is probably at a low, but you never know. The juices may flow this week and good things will happen.”
Eaks has battled knee, back and muscle problems this year after winning four times and posting more than $2.4 million in earnings the last two seasons on the tour.
His only top-10 finish this year came in March in the Dominican Republic, and he’s had to withdraw from three tournaments.
Eaks said since using an herbal remedy for several months, his stamina and play has improved.
He was under par for three consecutive rounds and finish tied for 20th on Aug. 30 in Snoqualmie, Wash. He added two more under-par rounds before closing with a 75 last week in Pebble Beach, Calif.
“I’m on some exotic root from Peru,” the 57-year-old Eaks said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s eating away the bone spurs in my knees.”
Eaks said he had to change his swing because of the bone spurs.
“Now that my knees are better, I’m trying to go back to what I used to do,” he said. “Everything’s in transition right now.”
But Eaks has enjoyed success on the Robert Trent Jones course. He finished second to Andy Bean in 2006, set the tournament record with a 17-under 199 in 2007 and came within a stroke of tying the mark last year. Eaks closed with a 1-under 71 in windy conditions for a four-stroke victory over Tom Jenkins and Tom Kite.
The Greater Hickory Classic also gives Fred Funk an opening to increase his lead in the Charles Schwab Cup standings.
Funk enters the tournament with a 57-point lead over Loren Roberts, who is skipping the event. Four-time winner and money leader Bernhard Langer – a distant third in the standings – is defending his title in a European senior event.
“I got off to a slow start because of a staph infection in my right knee,” said Funk, who last month won his first title of the year. “I didn’t even know if I would be playing this year at all, much less play at a high level.
“But this year has been very satisfying. This is a big opportunity for me, because Loren isn’t here. He’s been playing phenomenally well, so with him taking a week off, it’d be great if I can take advantage of it.”
However, the players will have to deal with an old nemesis at Rock Barn – the weather. Nearly a half inch of rain has fallen this week, and tournament officials say the forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of showers over the next three days.