Langer, Cook and Calcavecchia head field for ACE Group Classic

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John Cook is hoping to extend his streak of strong play from late last season, when he finished in the top seven in five of the last six events and closed the year with a win at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
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Associated Press

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Published: Thursday, February 17, 2011 | 6:25 p.m.

The defending champion isn’t playing, and neither is last week’s winner on the Champions Tour.

That doesn’t mean there’s a lack of star power at the ACE Group Classic this week.

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2011 ACE GROUP CLASSIC

This is the second straight year in which the ACE Group Classic is being played at the Quarry.

Bernhard Langer, last year’s Player of the Year, John Cook, one of the hottest players on the tour, and newcomer Mark Calcavecchia headline the list entering Friday’s first round.

Langer won five times last year, along with sweeping the player of the year title, money title and Charles Schwab Cup points title. So as the 53-year-old prepares to start his fourth full season on the Champions Tour, he had some resetting to do.

 “It’s getting harder because I’ve kind of achieved all the goals last year that I wanted to,” Langer said. “I had to sit down and I guess the main goal is still improve my technique and slightly improve my putting, improve a little bit in every area.

“If I can do that,” he said, “the wins will come along and the victories and the rest will happen. So it’s a game where you have to be very patient.”

Langer has a tie for third and tie for fourth in his two ACE Group Classic appearances.

Cook has played well since the last part of the 2010 season. He finished in the top seven in five of the last six events, and finally closed the year with a win, at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. He had 13 top-10 finishes, and was second three times, losing in playoffs twice.

“It was exciting and fun, but I played so well and had not won, and that was a little frustrating through the year,” Cook said. “But I was competitive every single week. That’s really all you can ask for.”

Fred Couples is missing this week after deciding to stay closer to home and play in the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera. Tom Lehman, who won the Allianz Championship on Sunday, also is staying home this week. They’re the only two out of the top 20 on last year’s money list not playing at the Champions Tour stop.

Fred Funk also had wavered on where to play, even entering both tournament, but decided Monday to skip the PGA Tour stop in favor of the ACE Group Classic.

So far, Langer hasn’t shown signs of maintaining his 2010 pace. He tied for 16th in the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii, and tied for 17th last week at the Allianz Championship, where he was defending champion.

The reason? Langer took off a longer time than usual in the offseason.

“A little rusty,” he said. “Took a long time off this winter and then just haven’t been able to get it all together yet, so working on it and expecting to show some improvement here in the next few weeks.”

Langer said he went skiing for two weeks, spent time with his family, did some Bible study, “went to church, went bike riding, worked out, did some office work, some charity stuff, just a lot of different things that you can’t do when you’re out on the road,” he said. “Get away from the game a little while, so I’m hungry again and ready to go.”

World Golf Hall of Famer Gary Player, the 75-year-old who won the inaugural Naples Champions Tour event in 1988, is back in the field. He’s only missed one Naples tournament, but played in only three Champions Tour events last year.