Even when BobHope was alive and quipping, the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic wasn't a top-shelfPGA Tour stop. By the '80s many stars were passing on the event's cupcakecourses, crazy-low scores, five-round format (four with amateur partners) andsubpar practice range and parking. Sad to say, the Hope field is usually weakerthan light beer.
This year,though, there's more at stake. The Hope is a crucial opportunity for alumni ofQ school and the Nationwide tour to improve their sorry lots on Tour. Priorityin getting into tournaments is based on experience and record, and Q schoolersand Nationwiders are at the bottom of the pecking order. It's always an uphillbattle for the newbies to get into all the events they want, but this yearit'll be even harder for the players at the bottom of the Tour's list.
A bumper crop atQ school--40 survivors thanks to a 12-way tie for 29th--and 22 Nationwidegraduates means this could be the year of the Big Squeeze. If the FedEx Cup's$10 million bonanza does, indeed, induce players to tee it up more often, thattranslates into fewer starts for the little fish, some of whom may get only 15to 18 chances. Good luck, gentlemen.
Still, the Tourwon't be short of new faces. Here are some candidates for our Camilo VillegasAward, emblematic of the breakout newcomer of the year.
•Anthony Kim Hehas hope at the Hope because he was a local hero at nearby La Quinta Highbefore becoming a three-time All-America at Oklahoma. Kim, 21, finagled onlyone sponsor's exemption after turning pro last summer and used it to tie forsecond at the Valero Texas Open. That top 10 got him into the Southern FarmBureau Classic, at which he finished 16th.
•Jim RutledgeHe's 47, the second-oldest rookie in Tour history. (Allen Doyle edged him by amonth.) Rutledge has six wins on the Canadian tour and one on the Nationwide.He's this year's Cinderella Man.
•Ken Duke Lastyear, at 37, he became the oldest player to win the Nationwide money title,which happened after he started working with instructor Bob Toski. Duke's edge?That money title exempts him into the lucrative Players Championship.
•Steve Marino Aformer star at the University of Virginia who played his way onto theNationwide tour, the 26-year-old can go low--62 at Q school and 59 in a 10-shotGateway tour victory.
•Johnson WagnerHe's 26, long and straight, and he won twice on the Nationwide last year. Healso finished 34th at the Sony, so he's off to a running start.
•Parker McLachlinHe's won on a variety of mini-tours (Gateway, Hooters, Spanos, Tight Lies) andhad five top 10s on the Nationwide last year, his rookie season. Plus there'sthe 27-year-old's DNA: His mom, Beth, played on the 1976 U.S. Olympicvolleyball team; his dad, Chris, played basketball and volleyball at Stanford;and younger brother Spencer recently accepted a volleyball scholarship atStanford.
•Bryce Molder Afour-time All-America at Georgia Tech, he's the can't-miss guy who missed ...until now. He's 27 and earned the last Nationwide spot, beating former U.S.Amateur champ Ricky Barnes by about $6,000.
•Jaco Van ZylThis South African, 27, is the rookie most likely to have his name misspelled,but he earned his card after starting the final round of Q school in 75thplace, then calmly shooting a 64 to make it on the number.
These are just afew of the new faces to look for in '07. Their playing opportunities may belimited, so please watch closely.
GOLF PLUS willnext appear in the Feb. 5 Sports Illustrated.
by JIM GORANT
George Lopez is to Bob Hope as Ryan Seacrest is to Dick Clark.
Ratings for the Mercedes-Benz plunge 44% in Golf Channel debut
NEW YEAR + UNCERTAINTY - TIGER - PHIL - WORLDWIDELEADER = SHAKY START
MARC FELDMAN/WIREIMAGE.COM (KIM)
POSTER CHILD Kim, 21, is the youngest of the 27 rookies on the PGA Tour.
CORBIS (HAT); FRED VUICH (FEDEX CAP, NICK FALDO); ROBERT BECK (WOODS); DARREN CARROLL (MICKELSON); COURTESY OF ESPN (LOGO)