Patrick Reusse: Huston excited to be competitive again

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 6, 2011 - 11:26 PM

Known for his length off the tee and the ability to post low scores, the Champions Tour rookie figures to be a player to beat.

Champions Tour rookie John Huston shares the lead at the 3M Championship heading into Sunday’s final round at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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John Huston had been on the Champions Tour for three weeks when he arrived at the Dick's Sporting Goods Open in late June. He fired a 7-under 65 in the final round to beat Nick Price by three strokes.

Presumably, there were different reactions from two age groups when they noted that 65:

• The younger fellows who saw Huston on the Nationwide Tour a couple of times this year said, "How did that happen?''

• The seniors who were reacquainted with Huston after he turned 50 on June 1 and joined the Champions Tour said, "What's new?''

Huston came out of Auburn University and made the PGA Tour in 1983. Over the next two decades, he put some numbers on his scorecards that were frightening.

He shot a 61 in the second round of the 1996 Memorial that remains the course record at Muirfield Village.

He shot a final-round 62 to beat Mark O'Meara and win the 1992 Disney Classic. It was something of a cupcake course, but his four-round total was 26-under.

That was not his best ever. Huston set a tour record when he was 28-under at 260 in the 1998 Hawaiian Open.

Huston had seven victories and won over $15 million on the PGA Tour. The last of those victories came in the 2003 State Farm Bureau.

He was 42 by then, and the shoulder problems that had been with him for years were tougher to overcome. Plus, the advantage he enjoyed earlier by being very long off the tee was lost to the tour's younger generation of rocket launchers.

Huston said he started this year with June 1 circled on the calendar -- the date he became eligible for the Champions Tour. Before that, he played three events on the PGA Tour and two on the Nationwide, and missed the cut in all five.

In an interview before he started Champions play, Huston said: "I actually wasn't playing that badly. Something stupid would happen on Friday and I'd end up missing the cut ...

"When you start to go down, you hover around that cut number every week, and that starts to be a grind. I really wasn't having that much fun. It was nice to come out here and know that, no matter what, I was going to have all three days.''

The field for weekly Champions Tour events is 78 to 80 with no cut. And, that move to the 50-and-over crowd has brought back Huston's advantage in length.

"Johnny was hitting the ball miles on Friday,'' said Nick Price, who played in a group in front of him.

Huston said earlier: "Out here, I'm probably one of the longer guys off the tee. On the PGA Tour, I was middle of the pack.''

Huston's victory in the Champions event on June 26 was his first win in eight years. The big difference for Huston that afternoon wasn't as much length as the return of his putting stroke.

"My putting isn't what is used to be,'' Huston said. "It was nice to actually putt well down the stretch. Probably until I was 43, 44, putting was the best part of my game. Then, it started going downhill.

"When the best part of your game becomes a liability, it's hard to compete.''

Huston and Jay Haas were tied at 8-under 64 after Friday's first round of the 3M Championship. On Saturday, Huston built a three-shot lead after 11 holes, then took an unplayable off his tee shot on the par-5 12th and made bogey.

Huston wound up in a tangle: He's tied with Peter Senior at 12 under, Haas is 11 under, and Tom Lehman and Mark Calcavecchia are 10 under.

Price finished second to Huston in late June. He was asked about the talent the freshly 50 Huston has brought to the Champions Tour.

"One thing about Johnny, he stayed out and played the regular tour all the way through his 40s,'' Price said. "He wasn't very competitive, but it did keep the rust off his game.

"I've played with Huston a lot through the years, and he can blow very hot. When he gets on a roll, he putts beautifully.''

Price paused, smiled and said: "He's going to do very well on our tour. He's just a kid here at 50. And I've always said, 'You have to make hay while the sun shines.' "

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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