As always, 72 holes at Fox Chapel more of a marathon than a sprint

The Champions Tour comes to the Fox Chapel Golf Club this week for its third major of the season, and most, if not all, of the players are thrilled.

Not just because they are returning to the Seth Raynor design that is one of top classic courses in the country. But also because the Constellation Senior Players Championship, which begins Thursday with a field of 81 players, is 72 holes over four days. It is not the usual three-day, 54-hole sprint that is the norm on the Champions Tour.

What does that mean?

Plenty, if you are Mark Calcavecchia or any of the other top players who would prefer the marathon of a major tournament to the sprint of just another weekly event on the Champions Tour.

"It's tough to win on any tour, especially ours because most of our tournaments are three rounds," Calcavecchia said. "I do like our majors that are four rounds. You don't feel like there's so much pressure to get off to a fast start.

"On our three-rounders, if you don't get off to a 4- or 5- or 6-under start on Friday, you can pretty much forget it. If you shoot even or 1 under on Friday, you're done. The best you're going to do is play two great rounds to finish in the top 10, if you're lucky. There's just not enough time to catch up. It is a sprint."

Calcavecchia certainly has found that format a little disconcerting. A 13-time winner on the PGA Tour who won the 1989 British Open, Calcavecchia has won just twice in five years on the Champions Tour. His most recent win was nearly two years to the day in the 2012 Montreal Classic, a span of 46 tournaments without a win.

Maybe that will change at Fox Chapel -- one of six 72-hole tournaments on the Champions Tour.

"It's been a little frustrating," Calcavecchia said. "I had a stretch there where I was playing great a couple years. There were some tournaments I had a chance to win and didn't get it done. I felt like there's four or five I gave away and should have had six or seven [victories], but that's golf. It happens."

Contenders lining up

It's not getting any easier on the Champions Tour.

Colin Montgomerie, who made his over-50 debut last year at Fox Chapel, is finishing his first year with a flurry. He has seven top-10 finishes in eight starts this season and in May won his first tournament on American soil and his first major of any kind at the Senior PGA Championship.

Jeff Maggert, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour who has six top-five finishes in major championships, won in his Champions Tour debut in March at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic.

Two weeks later -- and one week after he finished fourth at the Masters -- Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain made his Champions Tour debut at the Greater Gwinnett Classic and won. It marked the first time since the tour began in 1980 that players making their debut won in back-to-back events.

"The Champions Tour is becoming very, very competitive," said Germany's Bernhard Langer, who has two victories already this season and has won nearly $14 million since joining the Champions Tour.

"Guys are staying in better shape and taking it more seriously. They know there's another career waiting for them out here."

Langer, 56, has become the tour's most dominant player.

When he won the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship, it marked the eighth season in a row he had at least one victory on the Champions Tour.

Several months later, when he won the Insperity Invitational in May, Langer became only the 10th player in Champions Tour history to reach 20 career victories.

Langer, though, has won only two of the five majors on the Champions Tour -- the U.S. Senior Open and the Senior British Open -- both in 2010.

"I still believe a player over 50 is going to win a major," Langer said, and he was referring to the PGA Tour, not the Champions Tour. "Just because we're on the Champions Tour doesn't mean we can't play good golf."

A 'fantastic spot'

When Tom Watson played Fox Chapel for the first time two years ago, he fell in love with the place. He loved the Raynor design, called it a "hidden gem" and even took pictures of some of the holes to study and perhaps borrow some of the classic architectural techniques for some of his future designs.

"I don't know one player who doesn't think Fox Chapel is one of the best places we go," Brad Faxon said.

Raynor's mentor was Charles Blair Macdonald, who would take some of the best holes from Scotland and other parts of Europe when designing his classic masterpieces, such as the National Golf Links in Long Island, N.Y. Raynor, who designed more than 75 courses, did much the same at Fox Chapel, replicating holes from Europe with his signature Redan and Biarritz greens.

But Raynor died before Fox Chapel was completed, and his protégé, Charles Bank, finished the project when the course opened in 1923.

But it's not just the golf course that is a study in classic architecture. The clubhouse at Fox Chapel, a Brandon Smith and Alden/Harlow design, is a registered architectural landmark.

"It's just a fantastic, fantastic spot," said Michael Allen, a six-time winner on the Champions Tour. "It's probably my top spot on the tour we play every year."

Allen was so enamored when he played Fox Chapel in 2012 that he asked his friend, Ben Crenshaw, if he could play a practice round with him last year, just to get Crenshaw's thoughts on the design. Crenshaw, a course designer, did the restoration project at Pinehurst No. 2 with his partner, Bill Coore.

"With his love of the game, I told him I just want to see how you see the course," Allen said. "I want to walk around there and chat with you about the course. We had such a great day out there.

"To marvel at the first green, the third green; the par-3s out there are just sensational. It is a throwback. I feel like I'm in The Great Gatsby every time I'm there."

Gerry Dulac: and Twitter @gerrydulac.

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