Defending champ Sluman headlines First Tee Open |

Defending champ Sluman headlines First Tee Open

Associated Press

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) – Two-time defending champion Jeff Sluman will be joined Champions Tour money leader Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson and three other tournament winners at the First Tee Open.

Gil Morgan, Hale Irwin and Scott Simpson will be in the field of 78 pros matched with a select group of juniors ages 15-18 and 156 amateurs in the seventh annual event.

The field will rotate between the Del Monte Golf Course and Pebble Beach starting on Friday. The final round will be played Sunday at Pebble Beach, which hosted the U.S. Open for the fifth time in June.

Sluman overcame a six-stroke deficit to successfully defend his title. He aced the fifth hole and finished with a 4-under 68 for a two-stroke victory over Gene Jones.

A six-time PGA Tour winner, Sluman is winless this season but has four top-10 finishes.

“There’s just something about it,” said Sluman, who first played at Pebble Beach in 1983 and finished second in the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. “You get really excited when you get there. It’s such a great golf course. Every golfer in the world who has stepped on that first tee at Pebble, well I just like the history of things like that, being at Winged Foot and Augusta or here.”

Sluman failed the qualify for the U.S. Open this year, but practiced last month at Pebble Beach after the course was adjusted for Champions Tour standards.

“I didn’t know how it exactly was set up for the U.S. Open, but basically you can see where they’ve tried to cut the rough down,” Sluman. “But they want to get through rounds out there. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And it’s more enjoyable for the spectators.”

Langer, the two-time Masters titlist, is the only player to win five Champion Tour events in a season since Craig Stadler in 2004.

Langer claimed his second of two titles this season in Washington State three weeks ago at the Boeing Classic. He’s the only Champions Tour player to surpass $2 million in earnings this season.

Watson, second in the 2009 British Open, finished in the top-30 in the British Open and U.S. Open this year.

Watson, who will turn 61 on Saturday, claimed his 61st career pro win and 13th Champions Tour win in January.

Fred Couples, John Cook, Tom Lehman, Ben Crenshaw, Loren Roberts and Jay Haas also are in the field of the $1.8 million tournament. The winner’s purse is $315,000.

The First Tee Open will be sponsored by Home Care & Hospice after six years of title sponsorship by Walmart.