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SAS golf opens with Presidents Cup on some players’ minds

Scott Hoch and Peter Senior are competing in the SAS Championship but also have more than a passing interest in the Presidents Cup matches half a world away in South Korea.

Jay Haas, the captain for the U.S. team, was one of Hoch’s teammates at Wake Forest. The International team includes Jason Day and Adam Scott of Australia, Senior’s home country.

But Hoch and Senior also were there at the beginning. They were a part of the first Presidents Cup matches in 1994, held at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club near Manassas, Va.

The 12-man U.S. team had Hale Irwin as a playing captain and included Haas and Hoch, teammates again, along with Fred Couples and a young Phil Mickelson. The International team, captained by David Graham of Australia, included Nick Price, Vijay Singh and six Aussies including Senior.

The format mirrored that of the Ryder Cup matches – the U.S. against Europe – but that meant little to Senior.

“It was all new to the International team because we had never done it before,” he said. “The States and Europe had been playing it for years but it was different for us. To get the team to mesh together was difficult for some. Some guys would go off on their own. It was all new and we were missing a couple of key players like Greg Norman.”

The U.S. team won easily, 20-12. The Internationals won just two singles matches on the final day, Senior edging John Huston 3-and-2, not that he brings it up often with his fellow Champions Tour player.

“I played pretty good that day, was 8-under after 15 holes,” Senior said, smiling. “In the next (Cup) I played David Duval and he tanned my backside.”

Hoch halved his singles match with David Frost in 1994. Playing with Haas, the twosome had won points in the four-ball and foursomes competition.

“The Presidents Cup, in general, was a lot more fun than the Ryder Cup,” said Hoch, a U.S. Ryder Cup member in 1997 and 2002. “In the Ryder Cup there were people throwing up, couldn’t hit a shot. Some guys, normally nice guys, became (jerks) with their actions and the way they played.

“It didn’t bother me more than any other tournament. But I enjoyed the Presidents Cup, playing here in the States, and I had a pretty good record. And any time you put the colors of the United States on, it’s always something special.”

In 1996, the U.S. team won by one point and Hoch won a close singles win over Mark McNulty. The Internationals were easy winners in 1998 although Hoch won a four-ball match and his singles match against Joe Osaki.

The American have not lost since ‘98, posting an average winning margin of 19-15 in the past five Cups before this year’s competition. It has been that one-sided.

“I’d like to see the Internationals win a little more occasionally to make it more of a game,” Senior said. “With the European team winning more regularly in the Ryder Cup, it’s become a real competition.”

Hoch and Senior now have their focus on the SAS Championship, which begins Friday at Prestonwood Country Club and has a $2.1 million purse.

Hoch, who had back surgery last year, has been competing more on the tour despite some recurring issues with his left wrist and hand. He has two top-10 finishes in 18 events this year, tying for sixth in Tucson and 10th in the U.S. Senior Open after a final-round 66.

Jeff Maggert could be the favorite at Prestonwood. He has won four times on tour this year, has more than $2 million in winnings and is tied with Colin Montgomerie for the lead in the Charles Schwab Cup points standings.

Kirk Triplett is the defending champion, topping Tom Lehman by three shots a year ago. Both are in the SAS field along with such former SAS winners as Bernhard Langer, Russ Cochran, Kenny Perry and Mark Wiebe.

Hoch said he has a fondness for the SAS Championship because of Jim Goodnight, the SAS founder and CEO whom Hoch said “always has been very kind to me.” When healthy, Hoch has tried to play and support the tournament.

Hoch, an 11-time winner on the PGA Tour who had 15 top-10 finishes in majors, turns 60 on Nov. 24. In talking about the Presidents Cup, he laughed and noted he recently saw a photo of himself with the U.S. team in ’94 and wondered “who’s that guy with all that hair?”

The years have passed quickly, it seems. Hoch and his wife, Sally, are Raleigh natives who have lived in Orlando for many years and raised a family in Florida.

“But I just love coming back here,” Hoch said. “This will always be home.”

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip

Want to go?

SAS Championship

Where: Prestonwood Country Club, Cary.

When: Friday-Sunday.

Purse: $2.1 million ($315,000 for winner).

TV: Golf Channel (Friday, 3-5 p.m.; Saturday, 1-3:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3:30-6 p.m.).