Raymond Floyd & Dana Quigley
Jack Nicklaus & Tom Watson
Arnold Palmer & Loren Roberts
Gary Player & Jay Haas
The field of the 2007 Wendy’s Champions Skins Game is a golf fan’s dream come true – a combination of the sport’s greatest heroes and the younger top guns of the Champions Tour.
Few men command the respect and affection of millions of fans around the world as Arnold Palmer. An extraordinary player in his hey-day, Palmer earned 97 career titles including four Masters, two British Opens, one U.S. Open, one U.S. Amateur, and three Wendy’s Champions Skins Game. At 77, Palmer is winding down his competitive career, devoting more of his time to designing and building golf courses, and serving as an ambassador for the sport.
Palmer’s popularity is as much due to Palmer the person as it is to Palmer the professional. Despite being nicknamed the King, Palmer is beloved for being an everyman’s man, and the tales of his numerous acts of kindness are as impressive as his playing stats.
He is competing for the 19th time in the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game, paired with Loren Roberts who is making his rookie appearance in this event.
2006 marked Roberts’ first full season on the Champions Tour, and his impact was palpable. He racked up 18 top-ten finishes out of 21 appearances, and captured four titles including the prestigious Senior British Open. He became the first player to win his first three starts of the season, and earned $2,365,395 this past season, second only to Jay Haas. He finished the season with 14 consecutive sub-par rounds, the best streak on the Champions Tour for the year, and won the Byron Nelson Award as scoring leader.
Hawaii has been good to Roberts. He shot a record 25-under-par 191 to win the MasterCard Championship on the Big Island in 2006, and shortly thereafter took the Turtle Bay Championships on the island of Oahu.
Palmer’s colleague, friend and greatest rival is also a familiar face in the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game: Jack Nicklaus, who is making his 17th appearance in this event.
Considered by many to be the greatest golfer of all time, Nicklaus has amassed a playing history of the most astonishing caliber: a record 20 major championships including six Masters, five PGA Championships, four U.S. Opens, three British Opens and two U.S. Amateurs; a total of 105 professional tournament victories worldwide; and the only player ever to have won each of the game’s majors at least twice, and completed the career “Grand Slam” on both the PGA Tour and Champions Tour.
His honors and accolades are of legendary magnitude, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest honor given to any American civilian), the Vince Lombardi Award of Excellence, Muhammad Ali Sports Legend Award, five PGA Player of the Year Awards, Sports Illustrated’s Individual Male Athlete of the Century, Golfer of the Century, Golfer of the Millennium, and one of ESPN’s 10 Greatest Athletes of the Century.
Nicklaus captured the 2005 Wendy’s Champions Skins Game, the last year it was a single-player format. The 11 skins he earned that year represented a career-best payday of $340,000.
Nicklaus’ partner Tom Watson will be making his fifth appearance in the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game. He won the event in 2004 – with eight birdies and two eagles in 21 holes, which earned him 10 skins and $400,000 – and finished second in 2000 and 2006. He was also a member of the original Skins Game field in 1983 together with Nicklaus, Palmer and Gary Player. Out of six total appearances in the Skins Game, Watson won it in 1994 and finished second three times.
Those stellar stats are but a few of Watson’s many achievements. Winner of 56 victories, in 2003 he became the first player to compete in nine major championships in the same year (four on the PGA Tour and five on the Champions Tour), and earned all of the circuit’s top honors including the Charles Schwab Cup, Jack Nicklaus Player of the Year Award, Arnold Palmer Award and Byron Nelson Trophy.
In the last two seasons, he made 13 official appearances each year and was again among the top-ten finishers in more than half of his starts. He led the Champions Tour in Greens In Regulation, hitting better than 76 percent, the highest on the circuit since Tom Kite in 2000.
A year ago, Watson and Nicklaus nabbed eight skins and $260,000 at the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game, earning them a second-place berth and setting a new record for the most cash won on the front nine for this event.
The duo will find plenty of competition from fellow competitors, Gary Player and Jay Haas.
Player won the inaugural Skins Game in 1983 and has captured four Wendy’s Champions Skins Game titles, the most recent in 2000 when he ended an 18-hole drought by snaring four valuable skins on the playoff hole.
The owner of 108 victories worldwide, Player is one of only five men who own the Career Grand Slam. He is renowned for his commitment to fitness and as a notable course architect with more than 200 projects around the world.
This year, Player competed in just 12 official events, the fewest in a single season since he joined the Champions Tour in 1986. Nevertheless, he is in stellar form, having bettered his age twice and matched it once during this season. He shot an opening-round score of 69 at both the Senior British Open and the Wal-Mart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach.
Haas has enjoyed an outstanding season this year, seizing four titles and 16 top-ten finishes in 21 events. He ended the year at the top of the Champions Tour money list with $2,420,227, and placed first in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup points competition, earning himself the $1 million annuity prize.
One of Haas’ biggest wins came this past May when he won the Senior PGA Championship in a playoff. It was his first major championship in 90 starts on the PGA Tour, and gave him three consecutive victories on the Champions Tour.
Haas and Roberts have been in a dramatic race this past season. The margin in the Charles Schwab Cup race was only 20 points – Robert’s missed putt on hole #18 cost him the title and the annuity in what was the closest race ever in the event’s six-year history. The two players share the distinction of having won three straight events and four titles in 2006. Haas averaged more birdies per round than any Champions Tour player this season, and led in all-around statistics, but he was second to Roberts in scoring averages and top-ten finishes.
The team to watch this weekend will be Raymond Floyd and Dana Quigley, who are returning to defend their title, hopefully in a dramatic repeat of their amazing performance.
A year ago, the duo flew to the top of the leaderboard when Floyd drained his birdie putt on hole #17 for nine skins and $410,000, the largest total won on a single hole in this event. It also tied the record for the most skins won on a hole, and locked up the win for Floyd and Quigley. Two holes later (in a playoff), the team scored another skin and a record-setting $510,000.
For Floyd, it was the sixth Wendy’s Champions Skins Game win. He had previously captured this event as a single player five times in a row from 1994 through 1998. Altogether, he has claimed victory in six of eight appearances in this competition.
Floyd also owns four major championships and more than 60 titles worldwide. He and his family were named “Golf Family of the Year” by GolfWeek, and he was selected as “Man of the Year” by GolfWorld.
His partner Quigley was a rookie to the event last year, and the second rookie ever to win the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game (the other being Chi Chi Rodriguez who won in 1988). Quigley successfully defended his title in the Greater Kansas City Classic this past season, tying the course record with a 9-under 63, the lowest final round of his career. It was the 11th win of his Champions Tour career. He also placed fourth at the Greater Hickory Classic and the Senior PGA Championship.
Quigley was the oldest player to win on the Champions Tour in 2006, and a year earlier, was the oldest player to earn the Arnold Palmer Award as well as the only player that season to exceed $2 million in earnings.
Who will prevail this weekend? That’s anyone’s guess. But for some fans, the outcome matters little, for the legendary nature of these eight players promises it will be a great game of golf, no matter which way the skins fly.
Photo credits: Haas and Roberts, c. 2006 Steve Levin/WireImage.com; all others, Ray Mains & Associates Photography.
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