Winner of celebrity should be fairly easy to pick |

Winner of celebrity should be fairly easy to pick

Golf handicappers really have an edge for this weekend’s American Celebrity Golf Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

Unlike a regular PGA Tour event where any of the 150 players entered have a decent chance of winning, there are only about 10 celebrities capable of winning the 54-hole, made-for-TV championship.

Considering that most of the 80-player field only plays the game religiously four or five months out of the year, the few who are able to play year-round and keep their emotions in check are the best bets.

Immediately, four-time champion Rick Rhoden, 1992 winner Dan Quinn and 1994 champion Dick Anderson come to mind. You rarely see them lose their cool, and you know the retired professionals are playing anywhere from three to seven times per week.

“I don’t seem to get as many bad holes as some guys do. I don’t get a lot of double bogeys,” said Rhoden, who has earned $1.3 million in nine years of celebrity golf. “Even if I win, there will be a few guys who get more birdies than I do, but also have seven or eight more bogeys. But they are learning how to eliminate a few of those bad holes. Instead of a triple, they’ll end up with a bogey and move on to the next hole.”

If you’re superstitious, the likelihood Rhoden, who has won 21 celebrity golf tournaments since his debut in 1991, claiming a fifth championship is outstanding. Don’t forget the 46-year-old scratch player has won the event in all of the tournament’s odd years – 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1997 – and has averaged 71 strokes on the par-72 layout in 24 rounds.

“Anybody can win out there, but I still feel that Rick Rhoden is the guy to beat. You also have to consider Mario Lemieux, Dan Quinn, John Elway, Al Del Greco and Dick Anderson,” said former Raiders running back Marcus Allen.

The hottest player coming into the Friday-through-Sunday event is Quinn. Lemieux’s former Penguins teammate has won two of the five events on the Celebrity Players Tour, including last weekend’s event at Black Diamonod, Fla.

“Dan is playing really well, and there are quite a few other players capable of winning: Trent Dilfer is a good player; Al Del Greco has never won one of these events, so he’s due to win and John Elway was second in Lemieux’s tourney,” Rhoden said. “Now that some of these guys are retiring, they ought to be getting a little better.”

Rhoden also likes Anderson’s chances, given the way he works the ball.

“Most of the holes play to a guy who can fade the ball left to right. That’s one reason why Anderson always plays well there,” Rhoden said.

Anderson nearly won his second title a year ago, closing with back-to-back 69s after disappointing 75 to open the tournament. The former Dolphins defensive back was tied for the lead with Lemieux and Tolliver until “Super Mario” rolled in an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

Lemieux will be challenged to defend his title if all of his legal efforts to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh reflect that he hasn’t played much golf. The new Penguins owner birdied four of the last five holes to become the most visible and popular celebrity to win the event.

“I’m choked up right now. I can’t even talk. I can’t believe it. It’s as good as winning. I’m real proud of him,” said Quinn, after finishing sixth in 1998.

Another player to watch is 1996 winner Billy Joe Tolliver, who should have added his second win a year ago. Tolliver blew a five-shot lead during the final eight holes and finished in a tie for second. The best long shots are Brian Kinchen (22-1), who won a tournament last spring, and golf nut Mike Schmidt (30-1).

But if you’re really looking for the winner, talk to the tournament’s regional publicity man Phil Weidinger. Weidinger made an undisclosed wager on Lemieux at 20-1 last July.

His two picks this year are the obvious Rhoden and the sentimental favorite John Elway.

“Elway is such a good athlete, a competitor and so intelligent. He’s been playing a lot lately, too,” Weidinger said.

There you have it. Surely one of the eight guys mentioned above will be lifting the first American Century Celebrity Golf Championship trophy on Sunday afternoon.

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