TEE IT UP! When the 45th annual FedEx St. Jude Classic tees off this Thursday at the TPC at Southwind, 156 professional golfers will take aim at a winner’s purse of $684,000, and not one of them will be named Tiger Woods. In other words, we have a tournament on our hands! Here are ten names I’ll be following:
  • David Toms. Since the 1999 PGA Champioship -- a period that covers 11 majors -- only four players not named after a jungle animal have finished four rounds atop the leader board at one of golf’s grand-slam events. Toms took last year’s PGA at the Atlanta Athletic Club. While he made the cut at this month’s U.S. Open, he finished a disappointing 18 strokes behind Woods. The 2001 PGA won’t be this 35-year-old’s last major title.
  • John Daly. It’s been almost seven years since the big boy won his last major (the ‘95 British Open), but he’s still the longest driver on the Tour (just ahead of Mr. Woods), and, well, he’s still ours. He got the red-carpet treatment at the Lewis-Tyson fight, so heck yeah, fans are still paying attention to Big John. Daly finished tied for fifth at last year’s FESJC, his best finish ever at Southwind.
  • Nick Price. Since 1987, this two-time champ (‘93, ‘98) has played in Memphis ever year except one (1996). With two majors under his belt (he won the British Open and PGA Championship in 1994), the 45-year-old Price is hardly over the hill, as his ranking of number 11 in the world attests. Last year Price finished tied for eighth, his seventh top-10 finish at the FESJC.
  • David Gossett. The 23-year-old pride of Germantown and the University of Texas would love nothing more than to take his second PGA victory on his home course at Southwind. Gossett’s first win came in last year’s John Deere Classic and he finished second at this year’s Buick Classic.
  • Bob Estes. Pay especially close attention to Estes on Thursday, as it was in last year’s FESJC first round that the Texas native (another former Longhorn) lapped the field, shooting a 61 that helped him toward his second career Tour victory. Estes needed the round, too, as he finished merely a single stroke better than former Masters champ Bernhard Langer.
  • Justin Leonard. Considering the talent and age requirements for a legitimate rival to Tiger’s dominance, Leonard -- along with David Duval -- is at the top of the list. The third Texas Longhorn on this list, Leonard won the British Open as a 25-year-old in 1997. He won the WorldCom Classic this year and is currently 10th on the PGA Tour money list. Considering he hasn’t played in Memphis since 1998, his tee-to-green talent will be a welcome addition to the field.
  • Loren Roberts. Another hometown favorite, Roberts has a pair of second-place finishes this year, including a tie for runner-up with Gossett at the Buick Classic. The ÒBoss of the MossÓ hasn’t putted his way to victory since the 2000 Greater Milwaukee Open and he should be hungry for a strong performance at Southwind this week. After finishing tied for seventh in the 2000 FESJC, Roberts missed the cut last year.
  • Tom Lehman. The 1996 British Open champ finished third in last year’s FESJC, just two strokes behind Estes. Despite having finished in the top-25 on the money list for eight straight years, Lehman only has five career wins to his credit. He tied for second behind Ted Tryba at the ‘99 FESJC and has ten top-10 finishes in majors on his resume. If he’s within shouting distance of the lead on Sunday, watch out.
  • Casey Wittenberg. You gotta root for this kid. Only 17, this Memphian made his PGA Tour debut just last week at the Greater Hartford Open (he missed the cut). The reigning American Junior Golf Association player of the year, Wittenberg accepted the FESJC’s final sponsor exemption and made the field at the eleventh hour. Wouldn’t a pairing of Wittenberg and Gossett (or Wittenberg and Roberts) be nice on Sunday?
  • Gary Nicklaus. If your name is Nicklaus and you have a golf club in your hand, you’re worth a personal gallery at Southwind. He and father Jack have more major titles (18) than any father-son duo in PGA history. (Okay, the Golden Bear won all 18 . . . I needed a stat.) When you consider the Golden Cub was named after Gary Player, well, he’s got 27 majors in his name. And regardless of how he finishes, you can tell your grandchildren you saw Nicklaus play in Memphis.
  • My pick? After this weekend, Memphians will associate the name Leonard with more than just barbecue.
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