American Century Championship loaded with contenders, fast greens at Edgewood Tahoe will have impact on 27th edition |

American Century Championship loaded with contenders, fast greens at Edgewood Tahoe will have impact on 27th edition

Darrell Moody
Defending champion Mark Mulder opens the American Century Championship as a co-favorite with 3-1 odds.
Anthony Gentile / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

STATELINE — A year ago, Mark Mulder torched Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course for 82 points en route to his first American Century Championship title.

The left-handed pitcher, who is a 3-1 co-favorite with Mardy Fish to win the 27th annual tournament that starts Friday, July 22, doesn’t see that kind of point total this year. His 82 was two off the record set by Billy Joe Tolliver back in 2010.

“I don’t think the scoring is going to be like it was last year,” Mulder said Wednesday. “We [Eric Gagne and I] were in the low 80s, I think. I don’t foresee that happening.

“The greens are rolling great. As fast as they are, I think you’re going to see [putting] separate a lot of guys. I think it’s going to become a putting contest, to be honest. A lot of guys can hit the ball well, but the greens are where you can separate yourself. If they stay like this, it’s going to be incredibly difficult.”

Fish, who finished fourth a year ago, and two-time champ Mark Rypien, agreed.

“Like Mark said, the course is beautiful,” he said. “It’s in fantastic shape. We came Monday. We came out to hit some putts and couldn’t believe how fast the greens were and how tricky they were.

“I think a lot of people are going to struggle on the greens two-putting and lots of three-putts, and so it should make for a really exciting stuff.”

During pro-am rounds, it wasn’t uncommon to see the pros hit some extra putts on the greens to test the speed and break.

“There’s not a lot of action on the greens,” Rypien said. “A lot of times here you can spin the ball 30, 40 feet. They’re really firm and fast, and the course is playing firm and fast.

“I just played yesterday [Wednesday], and I’m going to go out and play again today [Thursday]. I just think it’s a different golf course; it seems like, from the past. The greens used to be spongy and soft and you get a lot of action on the ball. I think [getting] up-and-down, it’s going to be a point of contention.”

This year’s tournament could be one of the best in history. Five of the top 10 finishers from last year return, and two-time MVP Steph Curry of the Warriors is back after missing last year because of the birth of his second child.

Besides Mulder and Fish, there is Eric Gagne (second), Jack Wagner (sixth), and Vinny Del Negro (eighth). Missing are Josh Scobee (third), eight-time champ Rick Rhoden (fifth), John Elway (seventh), Chad Pfeifer (ninth) and John Smoltz (10th). Elway and Smoltz had scheduling conflicts when the tournament was moved by a week when NBC landed the British Open.

Gagne is going off at a 5-1 by the local bookmakers. He is, without question, the longest hitter in the field. Drives of the 300-plus yards are the norm, and he hits his 3-wood farther than most of the field hits driver. He is the epitome of grip it and rip it.

“It’s crazy,” Mulder said. “I played with him a bunch in Scottsdale. He plays his cut [off the tee]. The reason he hits so many 3-woods is because he can turn over his 3-wood a little. He can’t turn over his driver.

“Like on, say, 18, he can’t hit driver there because those trees on the left, which is why he hits 3-wood. It’s still right next to my drive.”

Fish said Gagne’s distance off the tee is comparable, if not better, than some of the PGA big hitters.

“He’s as long of a hitter as there is,” Fish said. “I’ve played with Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy; seen those guys play right next to me. He is further than them. He’s as long as anyone I’ve ever seen.

“I love the way he plays. He puts the peg in the ground, puts the ball on the peg, and swings as hard as he can. Then he goes to find the ball and does the same thing again.”

This will be Gagne’s fourth trip to the ACC, and he’s improved each time out, going from 34th in 2013 to seventh in 2014 and to second in 2015.

“I think knowing the course a little better it’s going to be a little easier, I think,” said Gagne. “My game’s doing pretty good. You never know, it changes every day. So I feel good.

“I am going to swing hard; very hard. So we’ll see what happens.”

Curry tied for fourth in 2013. He finished tied for 28th in 2010 and tied for 13th in 2014. He was in the hunt the entire way back in 2013.

“I played with Steph last week up in L.A., and man he can hit the ball well,” Fish said. “He’s got an awesome swing for anyone, really, for anyone, and especially for not playing much in the past, probably past six months.”

Curry joked when asked about being a 6-1 choice by the oddsmakers.

“Should I give that away?” he said amid laughter by the press corp. “The funny part is I feel like somebody is stalking me, like, at my local course and sizing up my game.

“I don’t know how they come up with the odds. I just got off the basketball court. I don’t know. I’m pretty confident in my game right now. So if that means a win, then I’ll be real happy.”

Curry said that he and teammate Andre Iguodala —making his ACC debut — usually played golf when the Warriors had an off day, so he may not be as rusty as people think.

“I follow the odds,” he said. “I’ve played with Mardy Fish a lot. Played with him, I think, two years ago in one of the weekend rounds. And, I obviously saw what Mark Mulder and Gagne did last year here.

“So you assume somebody is going to play out of their mind for three days, and it’s probably one of those three guys. I hope to be in the conversation, too.”

Wagner, the singer and soap opera star, is one of three golfers in the field who has played in every ACC event. He has 20 top-10 finishes, including titles in 2006 and 2011. He is the only non-athlete to win an ACC crown.

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