2016 SAS Championship brings Champions Tour playoff excitement to the Triangle

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

CARY, N.C. – The 16th edition of the Champions Tour SAS Championship is expected to create lots of energy and thrilling cup-rattling finishes at Prestonwood Country Club, Oct. 14-16.

As the last tour event of the 26-tournament season heading into the Charles Schwab Cup playoffs, the strength of the field is as deep and competitive as it has ever been.

Charles Schwab Cup front-runner Bernhard Langer, the 2012 SAS champion, leads a list of former tournament champions including last year’s winner Tom Lehman, Kirk Triplett (2014), Russ Cochran (2013, 2010), Kenny Perry (2011), Tom Pernice (2009), Mark Wiebe (2007), and Tom Jenkins (2006) into this year’s event.

Langer, who’s posted four wins in 2016, including two majors, has 29 total victories on the PGA Champions Tour in his career, and contributes significantly to 100-plus victories combined, including 22 major championships, amongst that high-caliber group.

Add in the first-time appearance of “The Mechanic”, aka “The Most Interesting Man in Golf” Miguel Angel Jimenez, who sits in second place in the Cup standings, followed closely behind by Joe Durant, Woody Austin, and Colin Montgomerie, and there could be some big fireworks going off by Sunday’s finish.

These guys still launch darts onto the green, and they back it up with ample birdies and scores under par.

“Jimenez was in the last group two years ago on Saturday at Augusta – Langer was in the last group this year at Augusta (The Masters),” tournament director Jeff Kleiber said at Media Day on Monday.

“It’s not like these guys are not good golfers still. They’re great players playing with their contemporaries on this Tour.”

After signing a 20-year sponsorship extension, Charles Schwab increased its profile and commitment to making the Champions Tour’s finale just as intriguing to follow as the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoff run.

As a result, aside from the attraction of the daily buffet, particularly Sunday’s, this event is a destination event for the Tour’s top players – 39 of the top 40 in the Cup standings are in this year’s field.

It’s a tournament they’re all seeking to win to help propel them further into the playoff mix during the three weeks following the end of the regular season at SAS.

“We continue to be one of the top events on Tour,” Kleiber pointed out.

“It’s important for the PGA Tour, for this Tour, to succeed and grow, and the playoffs are a big part of that long-term growth plan. They trust us to be in this position and they know what they’re gonna get, and we’re gonna deliver. We’re one of the highest purses on Tour, the players love coming here, and us being in that position is special.”

Considering that, along with the largest sponsor contingent of 90 corporate partners and an enthusiastic corps of 650-plus volunteers to help the event run smoothly for players and fans, and it should turn out to be one of the most exciting years of the event’s existence.

“I think the reason we (the tournament) get better and better, is the support from the community,” Kleiber said.

“From our volunteers to our corporate partners – obviously the foundation with SAS and Prestonwood is a great place to build from – but the support we get, especially from the Cary community every year gets a little bit bigger and better.”

That’s a big reason why the Tour’s legends return to the Triangle year in and year out.

“This event’s always on the calendar,” Kleiber continued.

“They want to position themselves for end-of-season awards and tournaments as well as eligibility for next year. But now with our position being the last full-field event before the playoffs start, even more so, the players want to be here and get their position.”

With the excitement that is quickly crescendoing surrounding this year’s SAS Championship, don’t be surprised to see the Schwab Cup around town.

Social media posts have already documented it making the rounds at various locations in downtown Raleigh including N.C. State’s Bell Tower and Court of Carolinas.

“It’s a special year,” Kleiber concluded.

“Having the trophy here, and getting it around town and using it to help promote what’s coming up, it helps educate people that this isn’t the same 15-year old event – it is different. It’s an amazing Tiffany silver trophy – it’s a pretty special thing.”

Notes: Two of three Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs events are new tournaments. The PowerShares QQQ Championship, to be held in the Los Angeles area on Oct. 24-30, and the Dominion Charity Classic, set for Richmond’s Country Club of Virginia James River Course on Oct. 31-Nov. 6, will be played before the third and final Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs event. The Charles Schwab Cup Championship, the traditional season-ending event at Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. on Nov. 7-13, will identify the Charles Schwab Cup winner who will earn a $1 million bonus. The top five finishers will also receive bonus payouts.