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Mark McCumber makes SPGA debut

Mark McCumber appeared to be in line to dominate the Senior PGA Tour once he became eligible at age 50.

He won the PGA Tour Championship when he was 43, and two years later was good enough to tie for second at the British Open. McCumber was gaining momentum for the older circuit.

But that was before shoulder surgery, an infection in his spinal cord and two ruptured disks in his neck nearly drove him from the game.

In the last five years on the PGA Tour, McCumber has missed the cut in 27 of 30 tournaments, making about $15,000. That's very different from the $5.3 million he made in his 19 previous seasons.

``I am anxious to see if my body will allow me to do what I would like,'' said McCumber, who will debut on the senior tour Friday at the SAS Championship.

McCumber, who won 10 times on the regular tour, turned 50 on Sept. 7. He was scheduled to play in last week's Vantage Championship in Clemmons but terrorist attacks on New York and Washington canceled the event.

``I'm nervous. I'm anxious, which is a nice feeling,'' McCumber said. ``I am wondering what to expect and I truly feel like a rookie again.''

The swelling in McCumber's spinal cord was his most serious injury. There was a time he wondered if he would walk again, let alone play golf.

``I had basically lost the use of my legs,'' McCumber said. ``Walking across the room would exhaust me. The swelling of the cord made my legs hyper-sensitive. They are still rubbery a little bit.

``The cart is a life saver for me. The one problem I have is my legs fatigue quickly. Riding can save me.''

Never really a fitness nut, McCumber now works out 45 minutes every other day to keep his legs in shape.

``Golf is kind of what makes you focus on doing it, but it's really for my life, so I can go out in the backyard and catch a football with my 10-year-old son.''

McCumber was one of the longer drivers on the regular tour in his prime, but he won't be able to rely solely on his length on the senior tour.

``When I won Doral in '79 I could knock it on any par-5 and I felt invincible strength-wise,'' McCumber said. ``I have geared down as the years went by, but I've always had a reserve. I can still hit a good drive when I need to hit one.''

Despite his poor showings the last five years, McCumber can still score. He made seven birdies in Tuesday's pro-am on the 7,137-yard Prestonwood Country Club course.

``I do know there is a big myth going around the regular tour that they are playing courses that are 6,600 yards long and I'm very offended by that myth,'' he said. ``This course plays every bit of the 7,100 yards.

``I played a converted par-5 and hit a 3-wood drive and 3-iron second shot over water. I said, `Where are all these driver-wedge holes?'''

A top player on the senior tour can earn more than $2 million, but McCumber said he's never been motivated by money. He will play only about 15 events a season for as long as his body permits.

``I plan to be competitive, whether that means winning or what I don't know yet,'' McCumber said. ``I don't want to set a bar that will frustrate me, orone that will make me relax if I achieve it right away.''

DIVOTS

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem will be here Friday for a moment of silence to honor those who died or are missing in last week's terrorist attacks. Eleven-time Grammy award-winner Shirley Caesar will sing God Bless America. ... Mike McCullough has decided to skip the SAS, ending his streak of consecutive events played at 177. ... Jim Thorpe could become the first playerto win three straight weeks since Lee Trevino did it in 1992.


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