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Older players continue to shine on PGA Tour

While young pups such as Sergio Garcia, David Gossett and Aaron Baddeley will snare many of the headlines this week at the Valero Texas Open, recent history dictates that they may have trouble grabbing something far more significant.

The title.

Lordy, lordy, look who's 40 (and older) nine champions on the PGA Tour this year, including the winners of the three most recent stops on the schedule. In all, almost a third of the 40 events played have been won by the graybeards.

"Hey, we don't want to relinquish our spot just yet," said Peter Jacobsen, four months past 49 when he captured the Greater Hartford Open in late July.

The 144-man Texas Open field includes 37 competitors ages 40 and older, including defending champion Loren Roberts. At 48, he's 26 years older than Baddeley, the youngest in the lineup.

"I do think that all the guys that are over 40, we all tend to root for one another," Roberts said recently. "I'm not going to say it's a club or anything, but we're not ready to give in yet."

That fact was pounded home in remarkable fashion on Sunday, when the rain-plagued 84 Lumber Classic of Pennsylvania was forced to squeeze in 36 holes on the final day. J.L. Lewis, 43, toured the course in 14-under-par for the two rounds to secure the win. Over the final 18 holes, the seemingly inexhaustible Texan fired a 10-under 62, setting a course record.

Lewis, who just last year was inducted into the Southwest Texas State Hall of Fame, will be joined at La Cantera Golf Club this week by 44-year-old Bob Tway, who won the Bell Canadian Open on Sept. 7, a week before 40-year-old Vijay Singh wrapped up the John Deere Classic.

"I think it goes to show you how seriously guys are starting to take their games and their fitness and prolong their careers," said El Paso golfer J.P Hayes, 38. "I think it opens up the week to so many more guys that feel like they have a chance to win and I think it's great since I'm going to be 40 in a couple of years."

Tour athletes credit better equipment, which has helped to even the playing field as far as driving average, a renewed commitment to fitness and experience as adding up in favor of the more established golfers. However, after a 2002 campaign in which there were a record 18 first-time winners but only four champions ages 40 and older the resurgence of the warhorses is spurring any number of theories.

"I think they're just rebounding from what's happened the past several years," said Gossett, 24. "They've seen some young guys have really gone out there and played well. They're saying, 'Hey, if we don't really continue to improve, we're going to get left behind.'"

Mark O'Meara, who wowed the tour in 1998 when he became, at 41, the oldest golfer to win two majors in a year, feels there may be a more tangible reason.

"Golf is a cyclical game, and it is a lot about confidence," he said. "I don't think it surprises me to see guys over 40 competing against the kids in their 20s, but certainly the game has changed. It's a power game. Equipment has gotten better, but certain golf courses, guys who are power hitters have an advantage.

"But there are some courses we play where everybody can compete on. Narrower courses, with deeper rough guys who can hit straight and putt well can compete."

As Roberts showed last year, La Cantera may be one of those courses. The 7,001-yard layout has its share of long holes and wide fairways, but adds a pesky dose of stretches that require sharpshooting and precise putting.

"If you have experience and know the golf courses, have a certain amount of maturity, know how to control yourself on the golf course, play to your strengths, you can succeed," Roberts said.

"Every player out here has one thing that they do better than anything else in their bag. If you can play to those strengths and stay disciplined to do that, then I think older guys can compete out here."

Besides, Tway told reporters recently: "When Peter Jacobsen won, I told him, 'The ball doesn't know how old you are when you're hitting it.'"

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