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Elway plays hardball; celebrities filtering in

Steve Yingling,Tribune Sports Editor

John Elway was trying to hit one out of Coors Field in Denver and Michael Jordan was reportedly vacationing somewhere in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Although the Isuzu Celebrity Golf Championship’s biggest stars were nowhere in sight, many of the celebrities showed up Monday at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course to play practice rounds or work on their swings on the driving range.

“It’s such a great time here,” said 1996 champion Billy Joe Tolliver, a backup quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs who played nine holes after flying in from Denver. “As far as the players go, we don’t care when we play here as long as we get to come here and play.”

Elway, who guided the Broncos to their first Super Bowl title in January, participated in the MCI All-Star Hitting Challenge on Monday. The former New York Yankees prospect is scheduled to play a practice round with his coach Mike Shanahan, Mario Lemieux, Dan Quinn and Trent Dilfer on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, there still is no word whether six-time NBA Finals MVP Michael Jordan will take part in the 54-hole tournament. A suite is being reserved in Jordan’s name at Caesars Tahoe in case the Chicago Bulls star elects to play.

“His deal is if he feels he’s ready to come and compete, then he’ll come,” said actor Adam Baldwin of “My Bodyguard” and “Full Metal Jacket” fame who finished 17th last year. “Hopefully, he’s had some time to practice and relax after that championship run. It would be great to have him. He’s a living legend.”

Shanahan, who played a practice round for the fourth straight day, was looking forward to a reunion with his star quarterback on Wednesday.

“John and I only live a couple of blocks from each other and we play a lot of golf together,” said the Broncos coach. “I’ve played with John when he’s shot 64 and when he’s shot a 67. He’s got that ability to shoot some really low numbers.”

But while Shanahan is ecstatic that Elway decided against retirement, he believes the 1987 NFL MVP may have to wait to win his first golf title.

“Not very many people can win it until they can play golf year-round. John doesn’t touch a golf club for seven months, so it’s pretty hard to win – especially this event – until you can play every day. But John will probably be in the top 10 because he’s a scratch golfer.”

By having Elway back for at least one more season, Shanahan can allow unproven quarterbacks Jeff Lewis and Brian Griese to learn from one of the best while veteran Bubby Brister serves as the backup.

“We have a lot of confidence in our backup players. But saying that, we’re still very happy that John decided to come back because he’s such a great quarterback,” said Shanahan, who carries an 8 handicap and tied for 55th a year ago. “Hopefully with the confidence we have from last year and not losing many players, we can pick up where we left off.”

Three players withdrew Monday, but the tournament welcomed Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown and welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya as late additions.

Movie star Samuel L. Jackson pulled out, along with singer Huey Lewis and former Green Bay running back Donny Anderson.

Practice rounds are scheduled from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. today. Admission is $10.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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