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On Champions Tour, it's all about the game

When the scores had all been posted at the conclusion of the Champions Tour's First Tee Open in California Sunday, the man in 77th and last place, five shots behind in the man in 76th, was Fuzzy Zoeller.

He had shot 77-76-78--231, earning $928.

Zoeller has probably left tips bigger than that.

So what's he doing out there?

The guess here is that he's living life and loving it. Golfers as a rule are overpaid. (Arjun Atwal, for example, finished tied for 18th in the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic in Illinois and won 60 grand.) But last money on the Champions Tour won't cover caddy fee.

So you're Fuzzy Zoeller, former Masters and U.S. Open winner, long one of golf's most popular figures, but winless since 2004, still ambling along the fairways, whistling while you work, smiling at the galleries, joking with your playing companions, shrugging off the bogeys that assemble on your scorecard almost every time you play.

Why? Because he's not ready for the rocking chair. Same story as Ben Crenshaw's, Jerry Pate's, Larry Nelson's, Hal Sutton's, Scott Simpson's and Craig Stadler's, all of them major champions on the PGA Tour, none of them higher than 46th in the First Tee Open, none of them winning more than $4,848.

Jeff Sluman, David Eger, Jay Haas, John Cook, Mark Calcavecchia, Fred Funk, Tom Kite, guys like that are winning big but if they weren't, they'd probably still be out there swinging.

It's hard to divorce the game. Harder still to walk out on it when you've heard the cheers for all those years, when you've known how it feels to battle down to the wire with every stroke precious, how it feels to win.

The Champions Tour is a golden mulligan. Turn 50 and you don't have to go home and play in the Saturday morning shootout with the members. You get to keep on playing in competition, on good golf courses. You get treated like royalty. You play in front of appreciative galleries. You make money. And maybe best of all, you get to hang out with buddies you've competed with for decades.

It's what you've always done. Sooner or later, you have to hang it up. But postponing that day is worth the effort, even at $928 a week.