STATELINE — Mention the name Jack Wagner, and you immediately think of heartthrob Frisco Jones from General Hospital or the devilish Dr. Jack Burns from Melrose Place.
He’s also appeared in several movies and produced five albums. You could consider him a Renaissance man of sorts.
Besides being a talented actor, he also plays a mean game of golf. Wagner is one of four players to appear in every American Century Championship since the event started in 1990, winning twice (2006 and 2011).
Wagner, the only non-athlete to win, has 18 top-10 finishes at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, and has won more than $510,000 in the previous 23 years of the event. Oddsmakers have established him as a 5-1 favorite entering today’s opening round. The favorites are five-time winner and defending champion Dan Quinn at 7-2 and eight-time winner Rick Rhoden at 4-1.
Wagner is looking to improve on last year’s eighth-place finish (51 points).
“I did not play well last year,” Wagner said. “I didn’t putt well. The year before clearly I had my best year. Last year I would say it was a lack of confidence.
“I really play just one tournament a year, and this is it. It’s hard to get sharp and keep your nerve when you play three days a year basically. I do prepare for this, but I’m just not … I don’t play a lot of tournament golf. We used to have so many more tournaments. That’s tough for me. I don’t hit a ton of greens; I don’t hit it that close. I have to chip and putt well in order to compete, so that’s what I rely on. So hopefully I’ll roll it well this week, and I’ll be able to hang in there until Sunday I hope.”
One thing that will help Wagner is he’s a little more refreshed coming in. Last year he was coming off a stint on Dancing With The Stars where he finished in 11th place.
“Last year I was a little sore coming in here,” he said. “Ballroom dancing is not conducive to great golf, just so you know. You have to hit the ball decent up here to build a little confidence and you have to make putts. I just didn’t have the confidence last year.”
Quinn, who has played with Wagner many times in Los Angeles, said that Wagner will be a force to contend with.
“Jack and I have played a lot of golf,” Quinn said. “He was a great host to me in ’94 and ’95 when I played for the (Los Angeles) Kings. He was in between jobs with Melrose Place, and we were on strike in 1994. We played Bel Air numerous times.
“He’s handicapped right. He used to hit three greens at Bel Air and shoot 1-under-par. It was very frustrating to play against him.”
If it does come down to putting, Wagner and the rest of the field will be putting on some tremendous greens.
“The greens are perfect,” Wagner said. “A couple of little spots, but overall it’s probably the best we’ve ever had up here. So I think it might give us a little more confidence putting hopefully, and the short putts have always been tough up here because there’s a lot of footprints and the grass hasn’t matured for the summer.”
Quinn, who caddies part of the PGA Tour season for Ernie Els, likes where his game is right now.
“I think I’m a little further along this year than I was last year,” Quinn said. “I didn’t play great, but I was sort of the last one (standing) at the end. I think I should play better this year. I’m feeling a lot better physically. I did work more in May and June as a caddie, which takes away from playing time I sometimes get.
“I’m the same as Jack. I think I’ve experienced a little bit of the nerves just being inside the ropes. It’s not easy for all of us to play once a year and keep score, especially those that get here on Friday morning. It’s kind of like you’re trying to win Friday.”
Both Rick Rhoden and Billy Joe Tolliver are impressed with Quinn’s game.
“He (Quinn) sees a lot of good golf every week, so that doesn’t hurt,” Rhoden said. “He gets (to be) around great players. Danny is going to play well, we know that. We know the guys who are going to play well, and there is always going to be somebody like a (Mark) Mulder that mixes in.”
“Quinn has a very repeatable golf swing,” Tolliver said. “He hits the same low cut shot around the course. He is always going to be right there in the hunt.”
After winning back-to-back in 2008-09 with 68 and 74 points, respectively, Rhoden has finished tied for eighth, sixth and tied for ninth the past three seasons.
“I can play good in spurts now,” Rhoden said. “I’ll play two or three weeks in a row really well, but then it’s like I haven’t played in a while. Hopefully this week will be one of those times when I’m playing well.”
Ditto for Tolliver.
“I’m kind of sporadic,” said Tolliver, who won in 1996, 2005 and 2010. “Some days I show up and some days I don’t. Hell, I’ve been hitting it pretty decent.”
Mulder is coming off a seventh-place finish in 2012. He got off to a quick start, scoring 22 first-day points. He was 14th in 2010 and tied for 23rd in 2011.
“He’s got some talent, plus he hits it nine miles,” Rhoden said. “If he can keep it between the trees he’ll be OK. “