Allianz Championship in Boca Raton 

The Allianz Championship is the first full-field event of the Champions Tour, and The Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton will host one of the strongest fields ever. The list of 80 competitors shooting for the top prize of $262,500 from the $1,750,000 purse includes 35 of the top 36 players from last year’s final Charles Schwab Cup standings.

The statistics are overwhelming. Eight players are in the World Golf Hall of Fame; 28 former Ryder Cup players (19 American and 9 European) have a combined 101 appearances in the international event; five former Ryder Cup captains are here; 59 PGA Tour winners have 335 total career victories; and 17 players have a PGA TOUR major to their credit.

Esteban Toledo

Esteban Toledo

Players Who Could Win It All

So, who should you watch for on this Joe Lee designed course (1978) with its renovation by Gene Bates (2004)? Esteban Toledo returns to defend his title that he won in a playoff with New England favorite Billy Andrade, who would like to return the favor this year. Last week Bernhard Langer won his 30th Champions Tour event in Hawaii at the weather-shortened Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai.

Adding to the shootout will be Fred Couples, Mark Calcavecchia, Brad Faxon, Fred Funk, Jay Haas, Hale Irwin, Lee Janzen, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Tom Kite, Sandy Lyle, Rocco Mediate, Colin Montgomerie, Mark O’Meara, Jeff Sluman, and Bob Tway. Europeans Jose Maria Olazabal and Paul McGinley will make their Champions Tour debut this week. These are just some of the better known names who will be competing over the par-72, 6807-yard track.

Wednesday saw 224 amateurs tee it up with 56 pros in both morning and afternoon shotgun starts. However, the day really belonged to Ian Woosnam, David Toms, and John Daly as this trio all had press conferences to celebrate their appearances at the 11th annual Allianz Championship.

Allianz Championship

Ian Woosnam

The Wee Welshman

1991 Masters Champion Ian Woosnam has just been elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame and will be inducted in September; 2001 PGA Champion David Toms has just turned 50 as of January 4; and John Daly is enjoying the end of his first full year on the Champions Tour and the popularity that has gone with it.

Ian Woosnam had 30 wins on the European Tour and two in the U.S. He had nine Ryder Cup appearances, including captaining the winning team at the K Club in 2006. He was a two-time European Tour Player of the Year and a two-time European Tour Order of Merit winner.

What’s it all about, Ian?

“It’s a great honor. Obviously, I am just very happy to be in the Hall of Fame. To be joining some of the great golfers that are in that Hall of Fame is just unbelievable. As the time gets closer and closer to September, I think I’m getting more and more excited about it. I’m looking forward to doing my speech more than anything because it’s not just about me being in the Hall of Fame. It’s about the people who got me into the Hall of Fame; my parents, people who have been close to me at golf clubs and everything. They’re all a part of it.

“[The greatest influences on me] were Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player—the Big Three.  I used to watch them on TV. When you’re a kid and you’re standing on the putting green, you think ‘I’m Gary Player, and this putt is for the Masters, or this putt is for the U.S. Open. Those three players were my inspiration to play golf. Obviously I’ve played with a lot of great golfers, and I’ve got to say Sandy Lyle is also one of my greatest inspirations. We played together when we were kids.  When Sandy Lyle was 15, 16 years of age, he was one of the best golfers in the world, and I think that helped me to become a better golfer because I knew what standard I had to play to at 16 years of age. “

“Cheers, guys!” In response to the press corps’ toasting Ian for his election into the WGHoF.

Allianz Championship

Bernard Langer [Photo by: PGA of America]

Fifty Is the New Twenty

David Toms is best remembered for defeating Phil Mickelson by one stroke in the 2001 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. He had to lay up on 18 before the water with his second shot and then sink an eight-foot par putt. He is playing in his second Champions event after last week’s tournament on the Big Island of Hawaii.

How does it feel to be playing with the old guys, David?

“The scores are awfully good! Not surprising, but I know that I have to go out and play great to have a chance to contend for titles.

“Just seeing faces that I’m very familiar with and know well and just catching up with these guys I really enjoy that. I look forward to even more of these opportunities to see guys I haven’t seen in a while. I’m going to play out here full time and sprinkle a few of those PGA TOUR events in there somewhere. I expect to play in about 20 events.

“I’ve set some goals. The first goal would be to try to get in the winner’s circle and then build on that. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to take great golf to do that. It’s going to take working hard, preparing the right way, staying in shape, and being positive.

“When I walked out of the clubhouse this morning, getting ready for the Pro-Am, there’s one of the carts with loudspeakers, music is playing, and everybody’s having fun. I really like that atmosphere. It kind of sends me back to 25 years ago when I started out here on the TOUR and what it was like. Just a nice breath of fresh air, for sure, for me anyway. Not to say the PGA TOUR’s not a great place to work, but I like the atmosphere out here a little better.”

Allianz Championship

John Daly

The Loudmouth Swashbuckler

John Daly has certainly enjoyed his niche as one of golf’s most popular and controversial figures. A modern swashbuckler with his Loudmouth attire and with his famous “grip it and rip it” philosophy about golf and life, John will tell you exactly what is on his mind.

He’s now playing with the innovative Vertical Groove driver, which he says eliminates a lot of side spin and adds to his distance. On the 10th tee he drilled his drive about 315 yards over water and sand traps, much to the delight of his large gallery and to the dismay of Scott Hoch, who had egged him on to try it.

John, how’s life on the Champions Tour been treating you?

“It’s great! This Tour’s laid back—unless you get in contention. I’m enjoying it. I love the Florida swing because I feel like I can play a little bit better on Bermuda greens. I’m having a blast!

“It’s very competitive, and the golf courses are in such great shape. Everywhere we go the scores are so low. You have to shoot five under a round, at least five under every day to even have a chance to win golf tournaments out here.

“I think I played way too much last year. The only problem with the Champions Tour is that you have to. Otherwise, you just get passed by [in the Schwab Cup], so it’s a tough scenario to be in. But, at least I’ve got a new life and a new job, so it’s not bad. As you get older, golf is really the only sport where you can really stay competitive. Hale Irwin’s in his 70’s, and he can still contend out here.

“I’m playing with the guys I played with in the ‘90’s. We were friends then and are friends now. We wanted to beat the hell out of each other like we still do, but we’ll sit down and have a beer together, and we’ll go out and eat together. We all get along, and we help each other out.

“Nah, the concept of being a senior is not hard to get used to. I’m only 18 with 32 years of experience is the way I look at it!

(Photography by Vicky MacKay and PGA of America)