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Jay Haas seeks first senior major title

Jay Haas has just about done it all on the Champions Tour this year.

He's won more tournaments, earned more money and had more sub-par rounds than anyone else. He averages the most birdies per 18 holes, owns a tour-best 69.36 scoring average and holds a hefty lead in Charles Schwab Cup points, which could earn him $1 million in bonus money.

About the only thing Haas hasn't done is win a major tournament, a shortcoming he hopes to rectify this week at the Senior Players Championship.

Oh, Haas isn't about to declare himself the odds-on favorite to win the $2.6 million event, which begins Thursday at the Baltimore Country Club. But he can't deny that he's playing some of the best golf of his life.

"I would never say that I feel like I'm the man to beat," Haas said Wednesday. "I think that I'm one of a group of guys who, if we play well, will be in contention. But I'm confident and I've been playing well. I've been driving the ball well, my iron game has been pretty good and my putting has been pretty good. Things have been going my way."

It's been like that for two years now. Haas only dabbled in the Champions Tour in 2004 and 2005, choosing instead to test his luck on the more challenging PGA Tour. But last year he turned his attention toward playing with the over-50 crowd, and ended up becoming the first player since Hale Irwin in 2002 to claim the Arnold Palmer Award as the leading money winner and Schwab Cub champion.

He's made a fine living on the Champions Tour, earning more than $2.4 million last year (plus the $1 million Schwab bonus) and nearly $2.4 million in 2007.

"The money is just incredible out here," he said. "I won't say that drives me, but I have five kids and three girls, so there are some weddings in the future and college to pay for. But I have just enjoyed playing. It's fun to go to work, and it's not going to last forever."

Haas won one major tournament in 2006, the Senior PGA Championship. In the majors this year he finished tied for ninth in the Senior PGA Championship, tied for fifth in the U.S. Senior Open, tied for fourth in the British Senior Open and tied for 14th in the JELD-WEN Tradition.

He does not expect an easy time of it this weekend. The Senior Players Championship was held from 1990-2006 in Dearborn, Mich., so this week marks the first time many of the golfers have seen this 7,003-yard, par-70 course.

"The greens are very slick and have quite a bit of tilt to them. I think the most important part of playing this golf course is to put the ball underneath the hole," Haas said. "But also, the course itself is very difficult. It's going to be a real test for us."

It could turn out to be the most challenging course on the tour this year.

"Being a new golf course, I guess most of us really don't know how it's going to play out," he said. "Generally speaking, when we go to a new place we always think it's harder than it actually is, but I'm afraid this one kind of is pretty difficult."

One of the contenders is Tom Watson, who has played in only 10 events this year but won two and finished in the top 10 eight times.

"He's a legend in his spare time," quipped Haas.

Watson, who's ninth on the money list, said, "I've had a better year this year than I did last year. The last round I played, I was in seven bunkers and got it up and down seven times. That part of my game was really strong. Those kinds of things keep me out here. I enjoy competing, hitting the shots when they count, hitting them well."

The top 10 money winners on the tour this year are among a field of 78 competing for the $390,000 top prize. The defending champion is Bobby Wadkins.

The tournament is sponsored by Constellation Energy.


October 4, 2007

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