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IF YOU CAN MAKE IT AT EL CAB ...

Byline: GREG WILCOX Golf

It is feeding season for The Beast, which by Father's Day weekend finally will have morphed into the monster that annually reveals itself as the U.S. Open.

The buffet table already has been set, with the main course being those highly skilled amateurs, and in some instances those not-so-skilled professionals, who possess enough moxie to enter golf's version of ``Survivor.''

And the great thing about the national Open is its openess.

Any amateur with an index of 1.4, which is a kissing cousin to scratch, or a certified professional whose game might be long gone, can enter.

And even some card-carrying members of the PGA Tour must submit to the tough United States Golf Association qualifying process if they have failed to gain exempt status into the tournament field.

An ``A'' game and healthy dose of karma are required.

The Open's final field will be set early next month after a series of sectional qualifying tournaments across the country, including one for the Southwest U.S. June 4 at venerable El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana.

``This is a very important event for Southern California and a very important event for the club,'' said Robert D. Thomas, director of communications for the Southern California Golf Association.

El Cab, as the members call it, was redesigned in 1963 by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and features tight, tree-lined fairways, water hazards and fast greens. In other words, this is a good a test as any for someone with Open aspirations.

The first time El Cab held a sectional tournament, it ended with the highest qualifying scores in the country.

El Cab's bloodlines date to 1925 and a group led by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who created Tarzan. Their version of the club, located a few blocks from the current venue, went bust during the Depression. Businessman Bernie Shapiro, club member No. 1, found today's El Cab in the 1950s and over the ensuing years it matured into one of the best golf courses in Southern California.

Jones Jr. redesigned the layout in 1963.

``Everything that is said about El Cab is true. It's a gem,'' said an obviously biased Thomas H. Bernsen, the facility's general manager.

He's right, too.

Ten amateurs from Southern California, including three with impressive credentials, will try to qualify for the Open on June 4.

They are Tim Hogarth of Northridge, the 1996 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion; Craig Steinberg of Van Nuys, winner of four SCGA Amateur titles and current winner of the Pasadena City Championship, and caddie Greg Padilla, winner of the 1998 SCGA Amateur.

All are familiar with El Cab.

But home-course advantage, if such a thing exists in golf, belongs to Thousand Oaks resident Mark Taylor, El Cab's head professional. He qualified into the 36-hole sectional tournament, which probably will have 100 players, by shooting a 71 during a tournament earlier this spring at La Purisima Golf Club. He'll probably have the biggest gallery on June 4, at least for a while.

``They'll be there until I have my first bad hole,'' Taylor joked this week before a tour of the course, which is tucked in a wooded area east of Reseda Boulevard and south of Ventura Boulevard and offers sweeping views of the San Fernando Valley from numerous holes.

He'll be working on his game over the next few weeks and already knows how tough El Cab's greens can be.

``I think there is some advantage in knowing the greens. Some of them are very treacherous. But I think most of the players will realize you have to be below the hole to give yourself a chance at birdie,'' Taylor said.

--More qualifiers: Other area golfers who qualified for the sectional are professionals Rick Garboski of Newbury Park, Glenn Preciado of Ventura, Paul Holtby of Moorpark and Mark Wilson of Thousand Oaks.

Alternates are Steve Holmes of Van Nuys and Alex Kuyumjian of Thousand Oaks.

--Serious money: The Tiger Woods Foundation William World Challenge silly-season event at Sherwood Country Club increased its purse to $3.8 million and the field to 16 players, four more than last year.

Included in this year's field will be defending champion Davis Love III, the top 11 players from the official World Rankings as of October 1 and four special invitees.

The last-place finisher gets $130,000, nice money for playing some golf on one of America's prettiest courses.

Last year's purse was $3.5 million.

ON THE GREEN

PGA TOUR

Kemper Insurance Open

at Potomac, Md.

Course: TPC at Avenal (7,005 yards, par 71)

Schedule: Today through Sunday

Purse: $3.5 million, $630,000 to winner

TV: The Golf Channel and Fox Sports Net (today and Friday, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. TGC 5-7:30 p.m.); Ch. 2 (Saturday, 1-3 p.m., and Sunday, noon-3 p.m.)

LPGA TOUR

Corning Classic is next week

PGA SENIOR TOUR

Senior PGA Championship

at Paramus, N.J.

Course: Ridgewood Country Club (6,904 yards, par 72)

Schedule: Friday through Sunday

Purse: $1.8 million, $324,000 to winner

TV: ESPN (today, 9-11 a.m. and Friday, 1-3 p.m.) and Ch. 4 (Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.) and Sunday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.)

SCORING AVERAGE

PGA

1 Tiger Woods 68.73

2 Vijay Singh 69.01

3 Davis Love III 69.29

4 Nick Price 69.70

5 Phil Mickelson 69.72

LPGA

1 Annika Sorenstam 69.90

2 Dottie Pepper 69.69

3 Se Ri Pak 69.93

4 Karrie Webb 70.42

5 Rosie Jones 70.48

PGA SENIOR

1 Hale Irwin 68.90

1 Gil Morgan 68.90

3 Allen Doyle 69.59

4 Larry Nelson 69.61

5 Bruce Fleisher 69.75

SPOTLIGHT

JACK NICKLAUS

We don't hear much about the Golden Bear anymore, but a major tournament at a classic course still stokes his competitive fire. So we will find him this week in the field for the Senior PGA Championship at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J. He's been looking forward to this tournament for months, and despite a critical assessment of his game, is still having a pretty solid year. So it won't be a surprise to see Nicklaus in the final group Sunday.

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ON THE GREEN (see text)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 24, 2001
Words:1056
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