That the PGA Tour Champions has a week off after the U.S. Senior Open could turn out to be a boost for the Constellation Senior Players Championship, scheduled to start next Thursday at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills.
It could give Fred Couples and John Daly, arguably the biggest draws on the PGA Tour Champions, time to get treatment for the injuries that have kept them off the course at various times this year. Both are currently committed to play, according to the list that became official Monday.
While Couples returned after missing more than a month with recurring back problems to win the American Family Insurance Championship, the 57-year-old former Masters champion had a flareup during the Senior Open at Salem (Mass.) Country Club, where he finished tied for fourth.
Daly, 51, never made it to the Senior Open, withdrawing a couple of days before the start with a shoulder injury that he first hurt last year. After joining the PGA Tour Champions this year, Daly broke through with his first victory at the Insperity Invitational in May.
It won’t be known until next week whether Couples and Daly will make it to the first tee for the opening round.
“Couples committed, pending almost how he feels this week,” PGA Tour Champions president Greg McLaughlin said Wednesday. “I would call him 60-40 [to play]. I think John is planning on playing unless he has a little bit of a setback.”
McLaughlin, who as president of the Tiger Woods Foundation ran the former No. 1 player’s regular tour stop in the Washington suburbs for several years, said players such as Couples and Daly bring fans to PGA Tour Champions events.
“I think it’s still a tour of names, names that people really want to come out and watch,” McLaughlin said. “I think that’s always the case in any type of professional golf tournament. Certainly Caves Valley has an amazing attraction because it’s pretty unique and certainly a wonderful venue. A lot of people wouldn’t have an opportunity to get inside the gates but for that.”
Still, the return of the PGA Tour Champions to Baltimore for its first tournament here in seven years — the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship was held at Baltimore Country Club Five Farms from 2007 through 2009 — will feature most of the world’s best 50-and-over golfers.
Two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer will be trying to win the Senior Players Championship for the fourth straight year. Langer will also be shooting for his third major title of the year, having won the Regions Tradition and PGA Senior Championship in back-to-back weeks in May.
Speaking recently of his dominance on the PGA Tour Champions as his 60th birthday approaches next month, Langer said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun that it sometimes surprises him how well he is playing.
“It’s the level of play and it’s my age, it’s both,” Langer said. “There were weeks and months in the past few years when I’ve played as good as I could possibly play or have played. It’s very encouraging to do that in your late 50s. It’s a little bit out of the ordinary.”
Langer’s chance to win three straight majors was broken at the Senior Open by Kenny Perry. As Langer faded from contention over the weekend, the 56-year-old Perry won his fourth PGA Tour Champions major by two shots over Kirk Triplett.
Perry will try to duplicate his feat from 2013 when he won the Senior Players Championship and Senior Open in successive starts. Given that he is the third-longest hitter off the tee on tour behind Daly and Tommy Armour III, Perry could be considered the favorite at one of the PGA Tour Champions’ longest venues.
Perry was the only player to shoot under par in all four rounds of this year’s Senior Open. His winning score of a 16-under-par 264 broke the tournament’s overall stroke record set by Hale Irwin at Saucon Valley in 2000 and matched by Perry at Omaha Country Club in 2013.
“That’s Kenny Perry. That’s the kind of player he’s always been,” said Tom Lehman, who finished tied for fourth with Couples. “When he gets going, he really gets going. He makes a lot of putts. He hits it so long that he shortens up every golf course that he plays. Therefore, if his putter is working, he’s going to make a lot of birdies.”
The one name missing from the commitment list for the Senior Players Championship that fans in Baltimore came to see the last time the tournament was played here is Tom Watson, who lost in a playoff to Don Pooley when the Senior Open was held at Caves Valley in 2002.
Watson, now 67, has played in five events this year on the PGA Tour Champions, including a tie for 40th in the Senior Open.
“I think even thought he had a great finish there in 2002, I think it was more of a scheduling conflict [for next week],” McLaughlin said.