SAS to feature star-studded field



CARY -- The field at this year's SAS Championship features 15 golfers who have won majors on the PGA Tour.

There are also eight World Golf Hall of Fame members: Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Larry Nelson, Nick Price, Curtis Strange and Lee Trevino.

Fred Couples, Mark Calcavecchia and Tommy Armour III are among the list of golfers making their first appearances at SAS, playing beside some of the Champions Tour's top money earners of 2009.

Golf eras spanning decades were represented at Prestonwood Country Club on Tuesday, with Strange taking practice swings on the driving range two spots down from Crenshaw. Up from them, defending SAS champion Tom Pernice Jr. worked with his irons.

"I wouldn't miss it," said Strange, a Wake Forest graduate who lives in Morehead City.

Tournament officials were making final preparations for what they are calling the strongest field in the tournament's 10-year history. Players tee off on Friday morning for the 54-hole, no-cut event where they'll compete on the Tom Jackson-designed course - a par-72, 7,212-yard layout - for a $2.1 million purse with a winner's share of $315,000.

Langer, the Champions Tour player of the year in 2009, enters the tournament with one of the hottest swings on tour, having won five tournaments this season. He is in position to win his third consecutive player of the year award and possibly finish atop the Charles Schwab Cup standings for the first time.

The golfer who collects the most Schwab Cup points earns $1 million, which was awarded to Loren Roberts last season.

Pushing Langer is tour rookie Couples, who won three of his first four starts and has finished in the top five six times in eight events. He was runner-up to Tom Lehman at the Senior PGA Championship and runner-up to Langer at the U.S. Senior Open.

This week's event presents an opportunity for golfers with only five tournaments remaining. Strong top-10 performances could help them collect Schwab Cup points. The top 30 money-winners after the season-ending AT&T Championship earn a berth in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship from Nov. 4-7.

This season, 13 Champions Tour events have been won with double-digit, under-par scores. Ten 54-hole events have been won with sub-200 scores, with an overall Tour winner's scoring average of 65.90.

"These guys can still play," Trevino said. "You'll see some great scores. I think it's going to be one of the best tournaments we've had in a long time."

Trevino, 71, has limited his appearances to six tournaments a season, including the SAS. It's an event he appreciates because of the warm galleries, large purses and superb clubhouse food.

"We love coming back," he said.

Crenshaw, playing in his 15th event this season, agreed - even if his game hasn't agreed with him.

"Dr. [Jim] Goodnight [the CEO of SAS] has put on a wonderful show," Crenshaw said. "They've made a great commitment to us. And we appreciate it."

Many of the Champions Tour golfers appreciate the opportunity to extend their playing careers on the circuit sponsored by the PGA Tour.

Ted Schulz, 51, won the Home Care & Hospice First Tee at Pebble Beach on Sept. 5, ending a 19-year, six-month, 12-day drought since his last victory in 1991 at the Nissan Los Angeles Open on the PGA Tour.

After taking an eight-year break, when he worked as a teaching professional at a country club, Schulz returned to tour golf and joined the Champions circuit.

He has worked to refine his game, calling the environment friendly yet ultra competitive.

"It's not as laid back as people think," he said. "You have to work hard and play hard. It's not a whole lot unlike the regular tour."

Strange, 55, makes his first appearance on tour since April when he played in the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf event. It's his sixth event this season.

"It's home," he said. "It's one of our better weeks."