Look for big hitters to shine at the 84 LUMBER Classic

By: samjack

Expect to see the big lumber come out at this week’s 84 LUMBER Classic.

After visiting a short and tight layout at the Canadian Open, the PGA TOUR membership moves to Mystic Rock Golf Course at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa. Mystic Rock, designed by Pete Dye, is 7,516 yards, the third-longest par-72 golf course on the circuit.

There’s plenty of room off the tee at Mystic Rock, but accuracy still counts with big bunkers all around and huge greens demanding precision, as is always the case on Dye-designed layouts.

This is the last year for the foreseeable future that the TOUR will have a regular stop in the western Pennsylvania area (though the 2007 U.S. Open is slated for Oakmont, near Pittsburgh). The event will always carry historical significance, however, representing the first U.S. golf tournament after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, which occurred five years ago today.

Last year: Jason Gore became the second player to win on the Nationwide Tour and PGA TOUR in the same year by blitzing the par-5s at Mystic Rock Golf Club, making an eagle and 12 birdies. His closing 2-under 70 and 14-under 274 total was for a one-stroke victory over Carlos Franco and two over Ben Crane.

How he did it: With some of the best ball striking of his career. Gore already was leading the Nationwide Tour in the Ball Striking category when he showed up at Mystic Rock. He proceeded to average 320 yards off the tee (ranked fourth in the field) and he hit nearly 75 percent of his greens in regulation (second). Add to that the fact that he hit it close, averaging less than 29 feet on his approaches to the green (seventh), which offset a good but not great putting week.

Strange but true: The $5.1 million Tiger Woods has won in his recent five-tournament winning streak would place him second on the current PGA TOUR money list behind Jim Furyk.

True but not so strange: Jeff Sluman was one of 10 players to shoot four rounds in the 60s at the Canadian Open, but finished only tied for 17th.

If the course could talk: “Big hitters are certainly welcome here, but lag putters might enjoy themselves more by week’s end.”

Worth knowing

The eighth-ranked tee ball basher, John Daly, is sponsored by 84 LUMBER, but he has withdrawn from his last two events after contracting an intestinal virus in Germany, and his status is still uncertain for this week. He missed the cut at Mystic Rock last year after finishing joint 13th in ’04.

David Toms returns to the 84 LUMBER Classic after withdrawing last year with a heart condition that required hospitalization and, later in the year, corrective surgery. Toms tied for 25th two years ago.

Two-time TOUR winner Frank Lickliter probably deserves some consideration this week, seeing how three of his last five starts at the 84 LUMBER Classic are second, tie for 10th and tie for ninth, and he is coming off his third top-20 finish in his last five events at the Canadian Open.

Another player who likes Mystic Rock is Jonathan Byrd, who has shot par or better in all 12 of his rounds and has finished no worse than 16th there in the three years the 84 LUMBER Classic has been held there.

As defense of his Valero Texas Open title approaches, Robert Gamez is armed with a Scotty Cameron Studio model putter at this week’s 84 LUMBER Classic. Of course, he broke his previous model at the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational. Gamez is ranked 99th in putting after ranking 26th last year.

Jim Furyk became the 12th come-from-behind winner at the Canadian Open in the last 16 years, but he is only the 12th winner in ’06 on the PGA TOUR to triumph. Interestingly, this year on the Nationwide Tour, just six of 24 third-round leaders have gone on to win and the last 11 have failed to hold onto first place.

TOUR Insider’s strength of field index: Last call near Pittsburgh beckons some big boppers. 7.5.

TI’s power ranking for the 84 LUMBER Classic: 1. Trevor Immelman, 2. Justin Rose, 3. Brett Wetterich, 4. Vijay Singh, 5. Camilo Villegas.

Parting shot: “My first Ryder Cup, I was 27, I was relatively young, fourth year on the TOUR. I remember my wife and I hopped in a limo with Mark O’Meara and his wife. And I had to reach over and say, ’Hi, Jim Furyk. … By the end of the week (we were) all a close family.” – U.S. Ryder Cup player and Canadian Open winner Jim Furyk .

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