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Champions Tour 2006 goes down to the last putt

This year was probably the most competitive in Champions Tour history. How competitive was it? The Player of the Year race and Charles Schwab Cup points title, with its $1 million annuity, came down to the final putt of the final group in the final tournament.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jay Haas

After hanging on to the year-long Charles Schwab Cup title by the slimmest of margins, Haas walked off with all of the major awards on the Champions Tour, including the money title.

Haas won four times this season, including his first major title at the Senior PGA Championship. He finished as runner-up twice in a row in September and, all told, amassed nine top-3 finishes. Haas recorded 16 top-10s in 21 starts and even made the cut in five of seven starts on the PGA Tour at the age of 55.

His first major triumph in 90 starts in majors in both the Champions Tour and PGA Tour certainly came the hard way. Brad Bryant eagled the 16th hole in regulation to draw even, and the two headed to a playoff at the Senior PGA Championship.

On the third extra hole, Haas drained a 12-foot par putt, but Bryant had four feet to force a fourth playoff hole. Bryant missed his par-saver and Haas collected his first major trophy of any kind.

Statistically, Haas has the credentials to warrant the honor. He was first on the elder circuit in birdie average, second in putting and scoring averages, fourth in greens in regulation, fifth in total driving and scrambling.

Despite the seven starts on the PGA Tour, Haas committed full-time to the Champions Tour this year and the decision paid off. He pocketed $2,420,227 and outdueled poker buddy Loren Roberts for Player of the Year.

TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR: Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

The story went like this. During Sunday's final round at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, Haas fell three shots behind Loren Roberts, moving Roberts ahead on the Schwab Cup points race.

Haas got back into the mix with a 20-foot eagle putt at the 16th hole. Roberts moved back ahead in the points race with a long birdie at the same hole after playing the 16th in almost poor fashion. His drive landed in the rough, then he went for the green in two and pushed it way right to the point that he began yelling at his caddie.

Roberts, nicknamed "The Boss of the Moss" for his putting prowess, lipped out a five-footer for par on the final hole -- costing him $1 million, Player of the Year honors and just about everything but the Heisman Trophy.

Incidentally, Jim Thorpe won the tournament for his only win of the season. If you care about that sort of thing.

SHOT OF THE YEAR: Loren Roberts' missed putt at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

Not to dwell on the situation, but you have to truly examine its gravity.

First, the Champions Tour started play on Jan. 20, when Roberts won the season-opening MasterCard Championship. He also won two of the next three after that and found himself in firm command of the Schwab Cup race.

Then Haas went on a little winning streak of his own in the middle of the season, and the race became one with two horses. So the entire season came down to the final pairing and final shot of the campaign.

Now factor in that, along with Ben Crenshaw and Brad Faxon, Roberts is considered one of the elite putters in the last 30 years of golf. He led the Champions Tour in putting, but missed a five-footer to win the $1 million.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: David Edwards.

This was as close a race as Player of the Year with notables like Fred Funk, Massy Kuramoto, Eduardo Romero and Chip Beck, but the competition came down to Edwards and Scott Simpson.

Both won once this season, with Simpson victorious at Pebble Beach and Edwards hoisting the trophy at the 3M Championship. Simpson finished sixth on the Champions Tour money list, while Edwards took 10th.

Here's where the difference comes in: Edwards competed in only 20 tournaments this year on the Champions Tour as he didn't turn 50 until April; Simpson played in 27.

Simpson finished in the top 10 eight times in those starts, while Edwards had eight in seven fewer starts. Edwards ranked first in driving accuracy, and was fifth in both greens in regulation and scoring average. Simpson's only top 10 in a statistical category was fifth in putting.

Plus, Edwards had no expectations coming into the elder circuit and snuck up on everyone, so he gets the nod.

GOOD YEAR:

Brad Bryant: Dr. Dirt (don't ask) won twice, collected four runner-ups and finished third in the money race and fourth on the final Schwab Cup race.

Tom Kite: Kite returned to the winner's circle after a year away in 2005. Returned twice, actually, and had a good chance to win the season-ending event after holing out three times for eagle during the first two rounds.

Bobby Wadkins: Lanny's brother collected his first major at the Ford Senior Players Championship after earlier winning the Boeing Classic. He had a good shot at the Jeld-Wen Tradition as well, but only managed one birdie on Sunday.

Allen Doyle: Only won once this year, but it was another come-from-behind win at the U.S. Senior Open. He successfully defended his title and upstaged Tom Watson in Kansas.

Former PGA Tour winners finally breaking through: Andy Bean, Jerry Pate and Fred Funk collected their first wins after successful PGA Tour careers.

BAD YEAR:

Hale Irwin: Now comfortably into his 60s, the greatest player in Champions Tour history went winless for the first time since joining the 50-and-over crowd in 1995.

Dana Quigley: Last year's Player of the Year did win one this year, but was nowhere near as good as 2005. He gets some sort of break considering he struggled early thanks to side effects from blood pressure medication.

Craig Stadler: You could be The Walrus, but would you want to be? Back-to- back years without a win.

Mike Reid: The 2005 Senior PGA Champion dipped to 39th on this year's money list.

Mother Nature: Weather problems caused the outright cancellation of the Bank of America Championship and knocked out final-round play in back-to-back weeks at the SAS Championship and Administaff Small Business Classic.

 

 




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