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Rhoden: Better than even odds for four-time champ

by Steve Yingling

There’s nothing odd about who’s won the Isuzu Celebrity Golf Championship on the odd-numbers years during the 1990s – Rick Rhoden.

What’s weird, though, is that the four-time champion has yet to win the celebrity championship on an even-numbered year.

The retired major league pitcher gets another shot this week as the ninth celebrity championship comes to Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

“I don’t know what it is. I’m out there trying to play the best I can,” said Rhoden, who was three shots better than 1993 winner Dan Quinn and retired 49ers quarterback John Brodie last year.

The Stateline casinos offering odds on the 80-player field don’t buy it. Rhoden is listed as a prohibitive 7-5 favorite at Caesars Tahoe and an 8-5 bet at Harveys.

Of course, if Rhoden plays to his ability, few have a chance. Last year, Brodie and Quinn had career-best championship totals of 6-under-par and still lost by three strokes.

In 1993, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench played batterymate to Rhoden, shooting a career-best 5-under 211, but lost by four shots.

In the even-numbers years, Rhoden has been undone by a poor-opening round – like the 4-over 76 he shot in 1996 when NFL quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver ran away with a five-stroke win and the 72-73 start he had in 1994 when Dick Anderson beat him and Steve Bartkowski on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.

The level of golf should be even higher this year since some of the celebrities have already participated in five or six tournaments compared to one or two last year.

“The fields are getting tighter and tighter with every tournament we play,” said Billy Joe Tolliver, who won the celebrity championship in 1996.

But only five players have won the championship and only six were under par a year ago.

“We have quite a few guys if they play well, they can win. But sometimes some of these guys try a little too hard. If they’d pretend they’re playing with your buddies, a lot of them would play better,” said Rhoden, who has 15 career celebrity titles.

Realistically, Rhoden is capable of shooting three rounds in the 60s. John Brodie and Dan Quinn may be the only other celebrities with the same ability.

Brodie, a former Senior Tour part-time player, knows he can beat Rhoden. The 1970 NFL MVP edged the 1984-86 Silver Slugger winner by a stroke last weekend in Denver. Quinn, a retired hockey player who won the 1993 tournament, shot three rounds of 70 last year and could have won the title with a more cooperative putter.

Brodie and Quinn are the best bets to dethrone Rhoden this week if the even-yeared jinx continues. But don’t bet on it.

Speeding up the greens

While wind and dry weather are speeding up the greens, Edgewood is also doing its part. Mike Smith, an assistant pro at Edgewood for the past three years, reports the greens were verticut (a light cut) over the weekend to quicken their pace.

“We’re trying to speed up the greens a little bit. They haven’t been tested yet, but they’re running really smooth,” Smith said.

Last year, the celebrities, for the most part, struggled with the hard-to-read poa anna greens. Rhoden missed four putts from three feet, 1992 celebrity winner Quinn four-putted the 15th green to drop out of the lead in the second round and Brodie needed 38 putts en route to a second-round 73.

“Some years those poa anna greens are really true, but sometimes they get soft and the putts can get kind of squirrely in the afternoon after the poa anna grows and 65 people are walking on them,” Rhoden said.

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

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