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Craig Stadler straight in at the deep end

Craig Stadler has been anxiously awaiting his 50th birthday so he can join his old pals on the Champions Tour. But if he expected to ease into the competition, his timing could have been better.

"The Walrus" turned 50 on Monday, and he will make his Champions Tour debut Thursday in the first major of the year, the Senior PGA Championship at fabled Aronimink Golf Club in Newton Square, Pa. In the following seven weeks, Stadler will play in three more major championships.

Once he gets past this pressure-packed stretch, which includes the U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club in Toledo, the Ford Senior Players Championship at the Tournament Players Club of Michigan in Dearborn, Mich., and the Senior British Open at Turnberry Resort in Turnberry, Scotland, Stadler can settle into the Champions Tour.

"I'm really looking forward to spending some time with guys I spent a lot of time with a while ago," Stadler said. "Things seem to be a lot more relaxed and they don't have to grind quite as much."

The fun-loving Stadler admits he hasn't really enjoyed himself the last couple of years on the PGA TOUR. In nine starts this year, he missed five cuts, withdrew once and his best finishes were a tie for 42nd at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and 49th at the Masters Tournament.

"This year hasn't been much fun," he said "I haven't played well at all and haven't had a whole lot of fun doing it."

Despite finishing 127th and 174th, respectively, on the money list the past two years, Stadler is hopeful that the new surroundings of the Champions Tour will energize his game.

"I really don't know what to expect," he said. "Some guys play miserable from (ages) 45-50, then start playing very well. I think a lot of it is getting back in the realm, playing with guys you are used to playing with. You're more relaxed and have a better attitude.

"I think it's a whole attitude change and that has a lot to do with your golf game. The more confidence you have, the better you're going to play."

Except for two very special events for him -- the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the Masters -- Stadler is saying goodbye to the PGA TOUR after 27 successful seasons.

The winner of the 1973 U.S. Amateur at Inverness, Stadler joined the TOUR late in 1976. The first of his 12 victories came in the 1980 season-opening Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and the highlight was winning the 1982 Masters in a playoff against Dan Pohl. Stadler won four times that year and finished on top of the money list.

Although he's getting a late start, Stadler hopes to play enough on the Champions Tour to make the top 31 on the money list and qualify for the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

"I'm committed to every tournament but two," he said. "Next year I assume I'll play around 25. That's not over and above what I've been playing. Heck, I've got nothing else to do.

"Seriously, I still enjoy playing. I enjoy the competition and knock on wood, if I stay healthy, I hope to keep playing for a while."

 

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