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Len Ziehm On Golf

Here’s five players well worth watching at Encompass tourney

The 12th event on the Champions Tour’s 2014 schedule, the $1.8 million Encompass Championship, begins its 54-hole run on Friday at North Shore Country Club in Glenview.

Last of the event’s three pro-ams is on tap for Thursday and the first two rounds of the 54-hole tourney proper will have a tournament within a tournament, with each of the 81 professionals teaming up with an amateur in a two-man competition. Among the amateurs are a few celebrities types – Brian Urlacher, Patrick Mannely, Gary Fencik, Kyle Long and Joe Theismann (football); Chris Collins and Toni Kukoc (basketball); Jeremy Roenick (hockey); and Gary Williams (Golf Channel anchor).

Only the pros will play on Sunday, when the champion will receive $270,000. Here are five of the pros who warrant your attention:

1, BERNHARD LANGER – 56, Germany.

With Martin Kaymer winning last week’s U.S. Open, this might be a big year for German golfers. Langer is the only multiple-winner on the Champions Tour and is leading the money list and Charles Schwab Cup standings as well.

In his PGA Tour days Langer won the Masters twice (1985, 1993). He divided his time then between the U.S. and European tours, but he’s focused on the Champions Tour since his 50th birthday and has been the circuit’s leading money winning in five of the last seven years.

He opened this season with a victory at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii in January and also won the Insperity Invitational in Texas. He’s also had three second-places finishes and finished in the top 10 in all 10 starts, his worst finish being a tie for ninth at the Regions Tradition in Alabama last month.

Langer made his usual workmanlike showing in last year’s Encompass Championship, finishing in a seven-way tie for third place.

2, KENNY PERRY, 53, Franklin, Ky.

Though he plays more on the Champions circuit, Perry is still a factor on the PGA Tour. He was the oldest player in last week’s U.S. Open, finishing in a tie for 28th place at Pinehurst No. 2.

In part because he splits his time between tours Perry is down in fourth place in the Charles Schwab Cup standings, trailing Langer, Jay Haas and Colin Montgomerie.

Though he didn’t win a major on the PGA Tour (he lost the 1996 PGA title to Mark Brooks in a playoff and was runner-up in the 2009 Masters), Perry accumulated 14 PGA Tour victories including the 2008 John Deere Classic.

He has six wins on the Champions Tour including one of this year’s majors, the Regions Tradition. Last year he won back-to-back Champions majors – the Senior Players Championship and U.S. Senior Open, the first time that feat has been accomplished since Haas did it in 2008.

His tie for third in last year’s Encompass was just another good result that helped him win the Charles Schwab Cup and Champions Tour Player-of-the-Year.

3, JEFF SLUMAN, 56, Hinsdale.

Sluman has had a Chicago area residence since the 1990s, when he was a regular on the PGA Tour. He once held the record at Cog Hill’s Dubsdead course with a 63 in the Western Open.

A big fan of the Cubs, Bears and Formula One auto racing, Sluman is co-owner of a golf course in Rochester, N.Y., where he grew up. He’s also a serious wine collector, with over 2,000 bottles accumulated since 1957.

His biggest moment as a golfer came in 1988, when he won the PGA Championship, but he also included two wins in the Greater Milwaukee Open (1998, 2002) among his six PGA Tour victories.

He’s been a regular contender on the Champions Tour and has $595,726 in winning to show for this season. The last tournament has been the season highlight so far. Sluman teamed with Fred Funk to win the Legends of Golf two-man team event in Branson, Mo., two weeks ago.

Sluman played a major role in bringing the Champions Tour back to Chicago last year after an 11-year absence and he was in contention throughout, ending in the seven-way tie for third place.

CRAIG STADLER, 61, Denver, Colo.

No one gave Stadler, affectionately known as The Walrus, a chance last year since he hadn’t contended in a tournament since 2007. Stadler, though, put together rounds of 67, 65 and 71 for a 54-hole total of 13-under-par 203 to win the tournament.

He held off Fred Couples down the stretch to win the $270,000 first place check and that was a big reason he finished in the top 30 on the Champions Tour money list for the first time since 2008.

Hip and back injuries have hampered Stadler this season, forcing him to withdraw from two tournaments, but he showed signs of recovery when he teamed with Kirk Triplett for a third-place finish in the Legends of Golf.

Stadler won the 1982 Masters and played with his son Kevin in this year’s event, making them the first father-son team to play in the same Masters. Kevin qualified for a return in 2015, while Craig has said that will be his last appearance at Augusta National. He also has another son, Chris, who played football at Lake Forest College.

5, CHIP BECK, 57, Lake Forest.

No player in the Encompass field is more of a hometown favorite than the affable Beck, who not only lives in the area but is also a director in the Western Golf Assn. The WGA, based in Golf, administers the Chip Beck Scholarship, which sends recipients to college annually.

Beck may be best remembered as a PGA Tour player for the 59 he shot in the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational, but he did win four times on the premier circuit and was runner-up in the 1993 Masters as well as the 1986 and 1989 U.S. Opens.

As far as contending this week, however, Beck has to be considered a darkhorse at best. He’s played in only three tournaments on the Champions Tour this season, his best finish being a tie for 32nd at the Toshiba Classic in March, and his winnings are only $18,458.

Beck has played a limited schedule on the Champions Tour since 2006 with no wins yet. He had two second-place finishes in his first season on the circuit, though, and last year he tied for 32nd at North Shore.

Category: Features