With the first major of 2005 looming, the players coming to the BellSouth Classic are hoping not only to win the golf tournament but also to get one last boost of confidence before The Masters! The top three ranked golfers in the world are not in the field this week, but that does not mean there aren't any guys in the field that can't get the job done. Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen, ranked fourth and fifth in the world respectively, have both won this tournament in the past five years. Mickelson won here in 2000 and Goosen won here in 2002. They'll be teeing it up come Thursday.
Stewart Cink, Kenny Perry, Stuart Appleby, and Chris DiMarco are all in the top 15 in the world rankings and will be teeing it up at the TPC at Sugarloaf. Perry and Appleby have already won on tour this year, and DiMarco was runner-up to David Toms in the Accenture Match Play Championship. These four guys add a lot of depth to the field. The purse for the event is $5 million, with a healthy $900,000 going to the winner.
Zach Johnson, coming off a tie for eighth at The Players Championship, will be defending this week. Last year, the BellSouth Classic was the site of his first PGA Tour victory. His 13-under 275 edged out Mark Hensby by one stroke. This will definitely be a special week for him, and he will be looking to become the first repeat winner of this event since Hale Irwin did it back in 1975 and 1977 when it was called the Atlanta Classic.
The BellSouth Classic has been played at the beautiful TPC at Sugarloaf since 1997. This course was actually the first course in the United States designed by Greg Norman. It is located in Duluth, GA which is just north of Atlanta. The golf course is a similar test of golf to its northern neighbor, Augusta National. The putting surfaces are very large and penalize the golfers who don't make quality approach shots. Sugarloaf is a 7,293-yard par-72 layout that tests all areas of the golf game.
The 11th hole is a little par three that requires a long iron tee shot to a peninsula green. This is definitely the toughest par 3 on the course and quite possibly the toughest hole on the entire course. The last hole is a par 5 measuring 576 yards. There is a high landing area and a low landing area. The players who choose to lay it short in the lower area will be forced to play a long iron or wood over water to reach the green in two. The players who take the risk of placing the tee shot on the upper level will have a much easier time of getting the ball on the green with their second shot. That is, if they can keep their drive in the fairway. This is definitely a risk-reward type of hole that is perfect for a finishing hole.
This week I look for the South African Retief Goosen to pull out a victory. He won this tournament in 2002, and after having an awful opening round at Bay Hill, he really came on to finish well at that event and finished T12 last week at The Players Championship. My "sleeper" pick this week is Lee Janzen. He really had a solid week at The Players Championship before his awful final round, and he shot a 70 at the difficult Isleworth course in yesterday's Tavistock Cup. Janzen has done well on this course, finishing sixth last year. Though not the player he once was, Lee still has the game to win tournaments like this. Everyone should keep an eye out for him at Sugarloaf this week.
If you have been upset by the weather early in the PGA season, then you shouldn't read this next sentence. The forecast for this week does call for a decent chance for thunderstorms on Thursday and Friday. The weekend looks clear for now, so let's hope the weather behaves for once. It would be nice if the players finished up on Sunday, so they could head up the road to Augusta National.
The field is strong despite the absence of Monsieurs Singh, Woods, and Els. It's always interesting to see whether or not it is beneficial to play the week before a major (Goosen, Mickelson, etc.) or sit it out and get extra focused for the bigger events (Singh, Woods, Els). We will definitely find out soon enough.
You can watch the BellSouth Classic on TV this week at the following times:
Thu 4-6pm ET USA
Fri 4-6pm ET USA
Sat 3-6pm ET NBC
Sat 3-6pm ET NBC