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All still to play for on Champions Tour

Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it any better.

One last golf tournament. Three awards to determine. A cast of thousands, er, make that 30, who will take their bows when the final curtain calls.

That’s precisely the dramatic scenario surrounding this week’s season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

Who will win the Charles Schwab Cup and the $1 million annuity that goes along with it? Will that person also be the Champions Tour Player of the Year? And could the Player of the Year be the top rookie, too?

Stay tuned over the next four days as the top-30 money winners on the Champions Tour help answer these questions in the wine country of northern California.

The action at Sonoma Country Club will be anything but laid-back, though. Tom Watson, Craig Stadler and Bruce Lietzke are the marquee performers but there are others waiting to steal the spotlight.

Watson enters the $2.5 million tournament with the lead in both the Champions Tour money list and the Charles Schwab Cup race. Lietzke is second in each category but Stadler has come on strong since he turned 50 in June.

The man who is known in many circles as the Walrus won the SBC Championship last week -- which was his third Champions Tour victory of the year. He also became the first Champions Tour member to win on the PGA TOUR when he captured the B.C. Open in July on the heels of a victory in the Ford Senior Players Championship.

“I’ve been looking forward to this week,” Stadler said. “That was my goal when I came out here.”

The avid wine collector wasn’t just looking forward to touring vineyards, though. Stadler knew an invitation to the Charles Schwab Cup Championship was reward for a job well done. He just didn’t know how well he would play.

Stadler’s performance has made him a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year on the Champions Tour. But the man with more wins than anyone else this year is a strong candidate for some more postseason hardware.

“Right now, I think Craig Stadler is Player of the Year,” Watson said on Wednesday.

That’s high praise coming from Watson. He’s the defending champion of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship and with two major championships on his resume in 2004, Watson is the choice of many of his peers for the same award he’s inclined to give to Stadler right now.

Watson also holds the lead in the race for the Byron Nelson Award given to the player with the lowest scoring average. And if the Champions Tour gave an award for Man of the Year, he’d undoubtedly win that, too -- hand’s down.

As well as he’s played this year, Watson has used the spotlight for something other than discussing his birdies and bogeys. He’s taken every opportunity to help raise funds to fight ALS, the deadly neurological disease that has afflicted his long-time caddy and friend, Bruce Edwards.

Edwards was diagnosed with what is commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease in January. Since that time -- particularly when he opened with a 65 at the U.S. Open -- Watson has seized the platform to raise awareness of the insidious and fatal condition.

“Bruce Edwards inspired me to play better golf this year,” Watson said. “No question. He hasn’t let it be a distrction. He wants to carry on. He’s making plans to be out here next year.”

Watson has won the Charles Schwab Championship two of the last three years and would become its first three-time winner with a successful title defense.

But the Sonoma Golf Club, designed by Sam Whiting and Willie Watson, is a brand-new venue so everyone in the field will essentially be starting from scratch.

“Playing here is new for everyone,” Watson said. “You have to be careful out there or you’re going to take some lumps. I’m playing well and putting well.

“Without wind, there is going to be a lot of birdies. But I think the conditions are going to change. It’s not easy. The speed of the greens will be key. There’s a lot of subtleness to the greens.

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