BellSouth Classic is more than just fine tuning
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2005 BellSouth Classic | Preview | 30 Mar 2005
One last chance exists for those playing Augusta next week to fine tune their games before the two hour drive to Augusta on Monday. For the others in the field, the chance to get in while the going is good with so many of the leading players making their final preparations for the first major of the year elsewhere. Certainly last year the first three placegetters, Zach Johnson, Mark Hensby and Scott Hend were not amongst the fancied candidates back then, but one thing that is for sure is that Johnson will be this year.
The event has quite a history, although it has been gone under several names since its inaugural staging back in 1967 when the New Zealander Bob Charles won the Atlanta Classic, as it was known then. It became the BellSouth Classic in 1992 and switched from its long time home, the Atlanta Golf Club in 1997.
The setup of the golf course at the TPC of Sugarloaf allows an excellent preparation for Augusta as the topography is similar, the greens are bent grass and are as quick and heavily contoured as Augusta’s and, as such, provide similar conditions to those they will experience next week. It is located just north (40 kilometres) of Atlanta in the area known as Duluth, about two hours drive from Augusta, another reason why playing here is considered by many. The Bermuda grasses that are used off the fairway have not yet had time to recover from the dormant period and many of the areas will still be tinged with brown.
For the first time in several weeks the field get to play on bent greens having moved away from the tropical climates of Florida. The greens here are sown in Crenshaw and Cato bentgrass. The greens are expected to run at 11 on the stimpmeter although the contouring on the greens will make many of them run faster than that. In that regard many of the players who have played for the last month on Bermuda like to get the feel of bent grass under tournament conditions prior to hitting Augusta.
The course, the first designed by Greg Norman in the US, was opened to great fanfare in 1997 and was an immediate hit with the players. Norman will of course not be here this year having undertaken back surgery only a week ago.
The biggest concern this week is to see if a PGA Tour event can be finished by Sunday night. Storms in the area in recent weeks could again disrupt the event.
There is a strong argument for any one of six leading players to do well here not to mention the ’bolters’.
Phil Mickelson won here a few years ago and has been inside the top ten five times in six starts. He starts the favourite in most people’s eyes and a solid 10th place finish was just the perfect lead up to his win just down the road last year.
Goosen, like Mickelson, is a winner here three years ago and was third the last time he played here. He is in fine form and another win would not surprise one bit.
Stewart Cink has one of the best records at this course although he has not been able to convert it to a win. Six top tens in his last eight times here suggests he feels right at home and so he should, as he lives in the area.
Zach Johnson is developing into one of the best players on tour and is a much more accomplished player than he was when winning twelve months ago. That does not always make victory a logical conclusion but if he does back up it would be no real shock.
Luke Donald was 8th last year and after his great week last week must surely come into calculations. This guy is all class and in seven events this season he has been outside the top 13 only once and has finished in second place twice.
The tournament tends to throw up the odd longshot as we saw with Ben Crane’s win in 2003 and Johnson last year so don’t be surprised if we see it again this year. One such player may well be Aaron Oberholser. He has played well this season and was 20th here in 2004. I expect him to go well at what will be lucrative odds.
The Australasians line up in numbers this week and if last year is anything to go by then we could see one, or many, of them doing well. Hensby was runner up in 2004 but is not here this week preferring instead to ready himself for his Augusta debut. Scott Hend was 3rd and Peter Lonard 5th and are both in the field.
Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby are doing nothing special of late, Baddeley is getting closer, Leaney appears out of sorts, Gow needs to improve, a repeat of last year’s effort from Hend would surprise, and Brendan Jones, Gavin Coles, Bradley Hughes and Michael Long can write their own tickets.
The tournament is worth US$5 million up another $500,000 from last year.