Sunday, August 31, 2003

Champions Tour rolling into town


Eight of top 10 money list leaders highlight field of 81 senior golfers

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP - The 14th Kroger Classic visits the Tournament Players Club at River's Bend this week. The kinks are out after last year's inaugural at the new course, which is a 5-10-minute drive from Kings Island.

"It's going to be a very exciting week with a lot of new things," said tournament director Margie French.

Eight of the top 10 money winners on the Champions Tour will be here - including Hale Irwin, the tour's winningest player ever - as will fellow big names Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd and Chi Chi Rodriguez.

The Kroger doesn't have the money list's No. 1 (Bruce Lietzke) and No. 2 (Tom Watson) and Champions Tour rookie Craig Stadler (he turned 50 this year), who pulled out because of a family commitment.

Several years ago, the Kroger Classic moved from a tough-draw summer date wedged between two majors to the present, more favorable September date. Generally it has made for a better field.

This year, the field is again strong, although some players - Stadler, Lietzke and Tom Kite, among them - couldn't make it because their children are headed off to school.

Nos. 3-10 on the money list, each of whom is eyeing this week's $225,000 first prize (total $1.5 million purse) are, in respective order: Allen Doyle, Irwin, Bruce Fleisher, Dana Quigley, Tom Jenkins, defending Kroger champion Bob Gilder, Gil Morgan and Jim Thorpe.

Irwin has been struggling with a bad back but finished in the top 10 last weekend. It was only his second event back after a month-long layoff.

Because the Kroger now comes later in the year - it is the 25th of 31 events on the Champions Tour - there's more of a demand among the players to be here. There are only so many chances left to move up the money list.

The Kroger has held its own with the fans - drawing about 100,000 for the week in its last year at Kings Island, and "several thousand more" than that last year in the inaugural week at the TPC, French said, but it's a tough battle with college and pro football.

"There's a lot of competition," agreed French, who nonetheless remains pleased with the date and the move to the TPC.

Since last year, the TPC has dropped $250,000 into regrading the 9th fairway to prevent "ponding" - the funneling of tee shots into the same area in the fairway - and the tournament has added three buses (up to 12 now) to help shuttle fans to the course from off-site parking a couple of miles away. These air-conditioned buses, which also are equipped with restrooms and TVs, are popular with fans. There also will be more bottled-water stations on the course this year, French said.

The TPC at River's Bend is a longer, more undulating course than the flat Grizzly at the Golf Center at Kings Island, so players are going to have to get used to not seeing many - if any - fans on the most distant holes from the clubhouse, Nos. 12 and 13, French noted.

The players - especially the shotmakers - like the course, because there is a higher risk-reward than at Kings Island. There is more opportunity here for the better players to separate themselves from the lesser ones.

Kroger Classic essentials

When: Monday-Sunday (tournament is Friday-Sunday).

Where: Tournament Players Club at River's Bend, Maineville.

Field: 81 players.

Purse: $1.5 million; first place: $225,000.

Course: 7,064 yards/par 72.

Gates open: 7 a.m. Wednesday-Sunday.

Note: Cameras permitted Monday through Thursday only; coolers and cell phones not permitted any day. Parking is free.

Ticket information:

• Monday-Tuesday, free; Wednesday-Sunday, $20.

• Tickets $15 if purchased at Kroger stores.

More information: www.krogerclassic.com

Five players to watch

Hale Irwin: He was off a month with a bad back before finishing 40th in Minneapolis two weeks ago and tied for 10th last week, so he's coming on. He likes the shotmakers' courses, which the TPC is. He has won twice this year and is fourth on the money list.

Jim Thorpe: There's no reason he can't duplicate here what he did last month at the Long Island Classic - shoot a 60 in the second round. That 60 tied a Champions Tour record and set him up for a one-shot victory over 2002 Kroger champion Bob Gilder. Thorpe won the Kroger at Kings Island in 2001.

Bob Gilder: Kroger's defending champion is eighth on the money list. He'll have to overcome some powerful precedent - the Kroger hasn't had a repeat champion in its 14 years - but he loves the course.

Allen Doyle: The former college hockey player is third on the money list. He won the FleetBoston Classic three weeks ago and finished fourth at the U.S. Senior Open.

Tom Jenkins: The third time might be the charm. He lost the last two Krogers in playoffs. He is seventh on the money list having won the Bruno's Memorial Classic.

Schedule

MONDAY

• Player practice (all day)

• Dana & Angie Quigley "Couples Golf" Clinic - driving range (1:30 p.m.)

• Dennis Walters Clinic, driving range (2:30 p.m.)

• Bumble Bee Seafoods "Marty & Joe Junior Pro-Am" (3:30 p.m.)

• Junior Pro-Am awards banquet (6 p.m.)

TUESDAY

• Player practice (all day)

• Tournament qualifying at Four Bridges Country Club (four berths available)

• U.S. Financial Life Insurance Tour Wives' Challenge, back nine (11 a.m.)

• Argosy Skins Game, back nine (1:30 p.m.)

WEDNESDAY

• Sara Lee Pro-Am (8 a.m., 1:30 p.m.)

• Skyline Chili "Be A Pro for a Day" contest winner

THURSDAY

• Sara Lee Pro-Am (8 a.m., 1:30 p.m.)

• Georgia-Pacific Grand Champions Pro-Am at Four Bridges Country Club (9 a.m.)

FRIDAY

• First round (starts at 7:30 a.m.)

• Anheuser-Busch Heroes Day

• Time-Warner Cable "Inside the Ropes" winners

• Golf Galaxy Demo Day, driving range (1-6 p.m.)

SATURDAY

• Second round (starts at 9:30 a.m.)

• Enquirer $10,000 Hole-In-One Challenge, hole No. 7 (all day)

• Dave Pelz Short-Game Clinic (1 p.m.)

SUNDAY

• Final round (starts at 9:30 a.m.)

• Awards ceremony following the completion of play, No. 18 green




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