American Century Championship: Tolliver’s record may be out of reach
STATELINE, Nev. andamp;#8212; Saying Billy Joe Tolliver won last year’s American Century Championship at Edgewood Tahoe is an understatement.The former NFL quarterback scorched the par-5s, made mince meat out of the par-4s and threw darts at the best par-3 holes Edgewood has to offer. In doing so, he ended the suspense early on the final day and set a new scoring record under the 54-hole modified Stableford format with his 84-point total.Even after all that, Tolliver isn’t the favorite to defend his title when the celebrity golf tournament returns for its 22nd year Friday through Sunday, July 15-17. The favorite is eight-time champion Rick Rhoden, who commented on Tolliver’s record this past Thursday in an ACC conference call with the media.andamp;#8220;It’s the first time anyone’s got over 80 points, and he did it pretty easy last year,andamp;#8221; Rhoden said. andamp;#8220;Billy Joe is one of those guys who hits about as far as anyone. Last year he was hitting it in play. And the par-5s, he had about 9-irons into half of them. That being said, I think it’s going to be hard to get that many points again. Someone’s going to have to play really, really well.andamp;#8221;Tolliver’s record last year was 19 points better than 2006 champion Jack Wagner, who tied for second with John Elway, Tony Romo and John Smoltz.Smoltz, after a rough outing in his first attempt at the Nationwide Tour just two months back, is being mentioned at the top of the odds list, though he says Tolliver has as good a shot to win as anyone.andamp;#8220;I’ve played enough golf with Billy Joe to know that it might have been different if someone was there to put some pressure on him,andamp;#8221; Smoltz said. andamp;#8220;But he separated that pressure by getting out to those par-5 layups.andamp;#8221;Both Rhoden and Smoltz have made their runs either through or at the professional golf ranks since retiring as big-league pitchers.Rhoden is the most accomplished of those who’ve crossed from one professional sport into the golf atmosphere. He made his Champions Tour debut in 2004 and spent five season competing in the andamp;#8220;minor leagueandamp;#8221; system below the PGA Tour. In 2006, his best year on the tour, Rhoden finished with one top-10 and grossed to 76 overall on the tour money list.Professional golfer Mark O’Meara joined the call Thursday and stated he didn’t think it’s odd that so many professional athletes are giving it a go at the game of golf.andamp;#8220;All the guys are great athletes, and golf is obviously a game that they have a great passion for and have competed in many, many times,andamp;#8221; O’Meara said. andamp;#8220;Some seem to be a little more polished. They’ve played a lot of competitive rounds already, maybe not on the Champions Tour … but they know how to handle it.andamp;#8221;Dan Quinn is another.Quinn retired from his play as an NHL forward in November 1996, and shortly after embarked on a career in golf. Starting out as one of the top players on the Celebrity Tour in 2000, he landed his big break as the caddied for John Daly at the U.S. Open.Since then, he’s carried bags for both Jesper Parnevik and Ernie Els, whom he’ll be joining at the Canadian Open the weekend following the ACC.He commented on a number of topics, including if he thought Tolliver’s record would be surpassed this season should the greens and condition of the Edgewood course set up right.andamp;#8220;I was able to play with Billy on Sunday last year and saw first-hand the point lead he had,andamp;#8221; Quinn said. andamp;#8220;Rick’s point was right on. He took apart the par-5s. They moved up the tee on the second hole and he drove the green there the day I played with him, so he had a ton of eagle putts, and that’s pretty big.andamp;#8220;A lot of it, though, has to do with the greens and how they come through the Tahoe winter, as to whether a person can make enough putts to come through with a score like Billy did last year. I thought I’ve seen the greens in better shape than what they were last year, which makes what Billy did even that much more impressive.andamp;#8221;Tolliver ranks third on the all-time money list at the ACC, posting career earnings of $571,581. The two players who sit in front of him are Quinn ($694,336) and Rhoden, who’s compiled winnings of more than $1.1 million.Smoltz says he will arrive in South Lake Tahoe the Monday before the tournament. As will Quinn. Each wants to be able to get enough practice rounds in at either Edgewood or some neighboring courses before taking to the official practice round Thursday.Rhoden will come into town Tuesday, play in the pro-am event at Edgewood on Wednesday and then hit the practice round Thursday before shooting for his record ninth ACC win.