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This time, McNulty won't be surprised
By BOB HARIG
Published February 9, 2005
LUTZ - Mark McNulty knew playing golf on the Champions Tour would not be as easy as winning his first event.
Still, the level of competition he faced in his "rookie" year came as a bit of a shock to someone who competed all over the world and still experienced success right up to age 50.
"The biggest surprise for me was the quality of play," McNulty said Tuesday at the TPC of Tampa Bay, where he won the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am last year. "I had a goal of trying to finish in the top 10 on the money list. It meant I'd have to play well in most tournaments and win a couple.
"In the end, I was lucky to find myself the recipient of three awards. Looking back, it was a great year for me, a good start for me on the Champions Tour."
McNulty was in town to promote the Feb. 25-27 event, which is part of the Champions Tour's 25th anniversary season. This will be the 18th year for the local tournament, which is part of the tour's two-tournament Florida swing. Next week, the circuit heads to Naples for the ACE Group Classic.
Like last year, the Outback tournament will have a pro-am format pairing one professional and one amateur for the first two rounds. While the pros play their own ball in the main competition, there is also a best-ball score kept (with amateur handicaps). The top 12 pro-am teams advance to Sunday's final round, when all the pros will compete for the $1.6-million purse.
The tournament received word Tuesday that Tom Watson has committed. The eight-time major championship winner did not play last year, when McNulty shot a final-round 68 to defeat Larry Nelson by one stroke. Tom Purtzer and Fuzzy Zoeller, who shot a final-round 61, finished two strokes back.
All those players are in the field this year, along with "rookie" Curtis Strange, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Gary Koch, Jerry Pate, Craig Stadler and Bruce Fleisher.
Among the celebrity amateurs who have committed are Tampa Bay Bucs Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks, former NFL quarterbacks Joe Theismann and Boomer Esiason, actor Kevin Sorbo and country singer Vince Gill.
McNulty, 51, did not come to the Champions Tour with the fanfare of others, yet he was an accomplished player everywhere but in the United States.
A Zimbabwe native, McNulty has been a world traveler. He grew up with three-time major championship winner Nick Price and noted instructor David Leadbetter, lived in South Africa and London and now keeps a home at the Lake Nona development near Orlando.
"This is the land of opportunity," McNulty said. "It is great to get to play here and compete."
McNulty won 55 times worldwide, 16 on the PGA European Tour. He was the medalist at the 2003 Champions Tour Qualifying Tournament and figured to be a force. But a bout of shingles kept him from playing until the Outback tournament.
Then he went nearly the entire season without another victory before capturing the last two official events, the SBC Classic and the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. McNulty finished seventh on the money list with $1.43-million.
This year, he has played twice, tying for fifth at the MasterCard Championship.
For information about the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, call 813 265-4653 or visit www.outbackproam.com