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Micheel helps illustrate value of smaller tour.

Byline: Ron Bellamy / The Register-Guard

In a year in which a big name didn't seem to mean much in golf's majors, in which Tiger Woods was no longer invincible - or, in the end, even a factor - there is this final footnote to last weekend's PGA Championship victory by Shaun Micheel.

He is the first Oregon Classic graduate, if you will, to win a major.

Not that Micheel is likely to have especially sweet memories of Shadow Hills Country Club.

In 1999, the tournament's second year, Micheel shot 150 for the first two days - 6-over par - and failed to make the cut, which was 1 over.

"He was one of the many great players," said tournament director Chris Roche, a polite way of saying that Roche couldn't remember much about Micheel that year.

Certainly, though, Roche was rooting for Micheel last weekend, because that most dramatic win by a former competitor in the Oregon Classic speaks to the talent on display in that event, and each week on what is now the Nationwide Tour, after former incarnations as the Nike Tour and, most recently, the Buy.com Tour.

"When we got this event, we were selling it to people as the home of the future PGA Tour stars," Roche said. "To see the leaderboard at the PGA Championship littered with guys who played in our event is pretty cool. Any time one of those guys wins, it validates the fact that the golf at this level is unbelievable."

Micheel, who clinched the PGA Championship with that fantastic 7-iron to within 2 inches of the cup on the final hole, won by two strokes over another rising star on the PGA Tour, Chad Campbell, who was set to play the Oregon Classic in 2001, the year the event was canceled because of the terrorist strikes on Sept. 11.

In third place was Tim Clark, another Oregon Classic alumnus - he missed the cut with Micheel in 1999 - and in contention for much of the tournament was Rod Pampling, who also played here.

"We've only had four events in five years, so to see these guys doing as well as they are is pretty cool," Roche said. "Every week, it seems we've got a couple of guys up there at the top of the leaderboards. The difference (between the PGA Tour and the Nationwide) is so small."

And yet the future-stars angle is only part of the allure of the still-young Oregon Classic, which returns to Shadow Hills on Sept. 11-14.

Because as the prize money on the Nationwide Tour grows - the Oregon Classic purse this year will be $450,000, compared with $225,000 the year Micheel and Clark couldn't make the cut - it continues to attract PGA Tour veterans who are trying to regain their Tour privileges, of course, but finding the effort financially worthwhile as well.

According to the Nationwide Tour, each week nearly 30 golfers who have won tournaments on the PGA Tour are entered in the Nationwide Tour event.

"That's one in five guys in the field," Roche said, and "for one week, those guys were the best player in the world. You're not going to luck into winning our tournament."

If, during the PGA Championship, the golf analysts harped on the depth of talent in the sport now, then Roche would argue that the ever-better caliber of play on the developmental Nationwide Tour is a strong factor (along with the high quality of collegiate play these days and the advances in equipment).

With three Nationwide Tour events left before the Oregon Classic, including this weekend's Wichita Open, the leading money-winner is Joe Ogilvie, a Duke graduate and stock market buff from Lancaster, Ohio, who earned more than $800,000 on the PGA Tour in 2000 and 2001 but less than $50,000 last year, not retaining his card. He's certain to return to the PGA Tour next year.

The interesting guys to watch in the Oregon Classic will be those battling simply to be in the top 20 on the money list at season's end, because they earn PGA Tour cards; previously, that prize has gone to only the top 15, but the PGA Tour has recognized the improved quality of play on the Nationwide Tour, exemplified by the development of the Micheels and Campbells.

Those guys are good, too.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 22, 2003
Words:722
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