Wiebe golden oldie

Constellation co-leader reborn on Champions Tour

Senior Players Championship

October 05, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

During a decade in which Mark Wiebe watched his career on the PGA Tour fade and he saw himself fall into a sort of golf purgatory on the Nationwide Tour, he often envisioned being in contention - or even leading - tournaments.

"I kept putting myself in contention mentally," Wiebe said yesterday. "If I was in 15th place or 20th place, I just played like I was leading. What would I do if I was leading, even though I was 10 shots behind? I kind of practiced that along the way."

For Wiebe, those mind games have turned into real-life magic after years of mostly frustration.

After going wire-to-wire to win in his Champions Tour debut two weeks ago in Cary, N.C., Wiebe finds himself in contention again in his first senior major - the inaugural Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship - at Baltimore Country Club in Timonium.

At 3-under-par 67, Wiebe is tied with four others - Loren Roberts, R.W. Eaks, Scott Hoch and Walter Hall - for the lead. Five players, including former University of Maryland golf coach Fred Funk, Dana Quigley and Nick Price of South Africa, were a stroke behind.

"I really don't know how to explain it, other than that I've been playing on the Nationwide [Tour] and I've been playing good golf the last two months," Wiebe said. "I really liked my game, I liked the progress and I liked the fact that I was competing with some young kids out there that can flat-out play."

The opposite is true on the Champions Tour, where Wiebe is the youngest player in the field. There is something of a back-to-the-future feeling for Wiebe in recalling his rookie year on the PGA Tour.

"When I started the tour when I was 27, these were the guys I used to get done playing with and call my dad and say, `I just played with Bruce Lietzke today,'" Wiebe recalled. "I saw Hale [Irwin] for the first time last night and [Craig] Stadler. I think the neatest thing for me is to be around those guys again."

Beating them isn't bad either. His victory at the SAS Championship was his first since the 1986 Hardee's Golf Classic. That Wiebe had a four-stroke lead coming down the 18th fairway in North Carolina helped a player who had his share of final-round wobbles along the way.

"That was different," said Wiebe, who won by three shots. "I hadn't done that before."

Asked what it felt like to finally win again, Wiebe said: "It feels awesome. It feels great. It's hard to explain, and I don't even know if it's set in."

Wiebe, who tied Bobby Wadkins as the youngest winner in Champions Tour history at 50 years and 10 days, was actually a little disappointed with the way he finished yesterday's round.

"That's a pretty tough hole, and I hit my best drive of the day," said Wiebe, who bogeyed the par-4 18th after his approach shot from the middle of the fairway fell short of the green. "It's a demanding shot."

But Wiebe certainly is not complaining, considering where his game has been the past few years. After allergy shots gave Wiebe the shakes on the course, he went back to allergy pills. But his biggest problem was a dead tendon in his left elbow that led to surgery four years ago.

"I've had a couple of surgeries that have taken me down a little bit," Wiebe said.

Wiebe said being able to play with guys his age - or older - has helped rejuvenate him mentally and even physically.

"You don't know what's around the corner; you still have to play. It's not like it's a free walk in the park," Wiebe said. "It's golf. The hole's the same size; so's the ball."

Roberts, whose six wins since joining the Champions Tour midway through the 2005 season are two fewer than he had in nearly a quarter-century on the PGA Tour, has seen what happened to Wiebe happen to others after they turn 50.

"I think even if you had an average career, a lot of those guys tend to do pretty well out here," said Roberts, who missed a chance at taking the outright lead when his 47-foot birdie putt on the closing hole came up inches short.

Roberts still gets a kick out of playing with legends such as Tom Watson, as he did yesterday, but thinks journeyman players and those like himself who were on the brink of stardom can often turn into leading men on the Champions Tour.

"If you've won three or four or five majors, there's maybe a little of what is there left to do?" Roberts said. "Whereas somebody like me who never won a major on the regular tour, I'm still excited. I think it's probably a little easier to get a fire going if you're someone like that."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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