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Champions Tour's '16 season begins for elite 43 players at Hualalai

By Paul Arnett
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HUALALAI, Hawaii – The Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai isn't just the beginning of the Champions Tour season. It is the end of the belly putter as we know it.
 
When defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez tees it up today in the final pairing of this elite field of 43 seniors, his playing partner and 2015 Schwab Cup winner Bernard Langer will be using a different putting technique for the first time since he joined the tour.
 
The USGA banned the belly putter technique starting in 2016 and it's certainly going to change the game somewhat in the coming campaign. Not that anybody's too worried about it. Everyone here used a short putter at some point in his career. It's just been a while since some have had to use it.
 
This tournament is the first of 26 events on the senior circuit. It has been on the Big Island since 1997. The stellar field boasts nine members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, including Langer, Fred Couples, Hale Irwin, Colin Montgomerie, Larry Nelson, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Mark O'Meara and Vijay Singh.
 
Singh is playing in this event for the first time. He is coming off a nice showing at the Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club, as is Fred Funk. Both made the cut last week and played through to the weekend. Funk finished at 9-under 271 and pocketed $18,661 for his tie for 42nd. Singh finished another shot back at 8-under 272 to tie for 50th. He earned $13,881.
 
"It was fun playing with the young guys," Funk said. "I think we showed we could knock it around with them. But it will be fun to be back at Hualalai. The golf course is wonderful and the greens are as good as you will see on our tour."
 
Funk and Singh were joined by Davis Love III, who also began his year on the PGA Tour at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He made the initial cut on Saturday, but was among those who did not survive the secondary cut. The made cut, but did not finish still equaled to a $9,628 paycheck for Love, who will spend time on both tours this year.
 
"Looking forward to playing in this event again," Love said. "I will spend a lot of time on the regular tour this year because of the Ryder Cup. I want to get a good look at as many players as I can throughout the year. But it's always fun to play golf with the guys I knew when I first started. It should be a good three days. You have to go low to have a chance."
 
Singh and Love will be playing partners the first day. Singh also will spend time on both tours. Like Love, he should recognize every golfer in the field. Peter Jacobsen will tee it up first, and the Golf Channel broadcaster still likes to swing the clubs when he can. He will play with a marker because Russ Cochran had to withdraw due to an elbow injury.
 
Jimenez flew from halfway around the world to play in this event last year. He sunk a 20-foot for birdie on the 17th hole to move ahead of runner-up O'Meara by a single shot. It was one of six birdies Jimenez made over his final nine holes to secure his second Champions Tour victory.
 
There will be eight golfers making their first appearance here in Singh, Lee Janzen, Marco Dawson, Billy Andrade, Joe Durant, Ian Woosnam, Jerry Smith and Duffy Waldorf.
 
There are also eight former winners here: Jimenez, Funk, Irwin, Kite, Nelson, Watson, Loren Roberts and John Cook. But none had to come as far as Jimenez, who said he began his journey here in Austria. In an interview Thursday Jimenez, said he will leave Sunday or Monday to play in the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic next.
 
This article was written by Paul Arnett from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.