NAPLES, Fla. -- The defending champion and runner-up are recovering from thumb injuries, the player of the year is in the field, and so is the guy who hit an upside-down, left-handed shot to win last week.
The 25th anniversary of the ACE Group Classic has multiple story lines this weekend at TwinEagles Club.
Bernhard Langer won at The Quarry last season for the last of his 14 Champions Tour titles. He had a tournament-record 20-under total to beat Funk by four strokes, but was sidelined later because of a torn thumb ligament. Funk is coming back from thumb fusion surgery.
Tom Lehman is making his first appearance in the tournament, and so is Corey Pavin, coming off his first Champions Tour victory after his incredible shot in the Allianz Championship.
He tied for third at the Allianz.
“If you know me a little bit, I’m a very competitive guy,” Langer said Thursday, a day before the start of play in the 54-hole event. “I like to be in contention. When you’ve won so many times, you like to win again. If I’m able to practice and work at it, I’d like to have some success.”
Funk injured his thumb using a swing aid when it struck a porch rail. Thumb surgery did not work, then he had to have fusion surgery -- the doctor even had Funk grip a golf club so he could check the preferred angle of the thumb before putting Funk under for the surgery. In his first event since last July, he tied for 10th at the Allianz.
Lehman was the tour’s top player last year, but hasn’t started 2012 that way. He tied for 12th at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii, then tied for 31st at Allianz.
“I feel like the season is only now just starting for me,” said Lehman, who played 29 times combined on both tours last year. “Didn’t have much of a break, so I’m really anxious to kind of get moving with this season, and hopefully this week is the start of it.”
Pavin won for the first time in 122 starts since the 2006 PGA Tour event in Milwaukee. He had to birdie the first playoff hole to beat Peter Senior, but it was Pavin’s unlikely up-and-down for par on the par-3 14th that people are talking about. His ball landed in a hole next to a root, and he didn’t have a swing from the right side. So Pavin turned the clubhead of an 8-iron over, and got the ball over a cartpath and to the top of a green sloping away from him. The ball ended up four feet away, and he sank the putt.
“It came out better than I could ever expect it to, and it was kind of almost laughable how good it turned out,” Pavin said.
The tournament was last played at TwinEagles in 2006. Loren Roberts won that year to become the first Champions Tour player to open a season with three straight victories. Roberts also won in 2009 at TPC Treviso Bay.