More challengers than usual for odd champ
It may be an odd year, but Rick Rhoden isn’t considered a runaway favorite to win his sixth title at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship this weekend at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
Rhoden, a former Major League pitcher, has the toughest field in the 12-year event to contend with.
Among those looking to challenge him are NHL Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux, former Major League pitcher Shane Rawley, NFL placekicker and defending champion Al Del Greco and former NHL player Dan Quinn.
Quinn, who won the event in 1992, is easily one of the most consistent players on the Celebrity Players tour, while Rawley’s name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
“Shane’s playing very, very well right now,” said Del Greco, who blistered the course a year ago with a final-round 65. “But he’s got a lot to prove being here. He hasn’t played here in a while.”
Lemieux, the 1998 winner, has noticed the field preparing more this year than in the past, trying to unseat Rhoden as the ‘Odd-year Champion.’
“As you can see, a lot of guys are practicing and are not in the bar somewhere like we used to,” Lemieux said after his Celeb-Am round Thursday. “You can see these guys are serious about their golf games. They play golf, and they practice after their rounds and spend some more time on the greens, so there are probably 10-12 guys who have a really good chance.”
Another person who should find his name toward the top of the leader board on the final day is Major League Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt.
Schmidt, who can be seen diligently working on and around the practice greens, has to have a consistent short game and good putting to be in contention.
“He hits the ball great, but the name of the game is putting,” Lemieux said. “He has been struggling with his putting the last couple of years.
“He went to the long putter and now he is back to the short putter now.”
Dilfer has consistently been in the hunt for the title, but always has one bad round to knock him out of contention. If he can cut that out this weekend, he should have a good chance as well.
“Trent’s got a good a shot of any of us,” said Del Greco, who played in a Buy.com Tour event this year. “But he always has that one bad round that hurts him.”
At Edgewood, the wind and the weather have always been a factor. Throughout the earlier part of the week, players were called off the course because of rain and lightning. In 1999, Rhoden ran away from the competition in a wind-swept final two rounds.
“The way he hits the ball, he controls the ball very well and hits it pretty low,” Lemieux said. “So if the wind picks up, he has a big advantage.”
After all, it is an odd year.
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