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Oregon Classic heightens its profile.

Byline: Ron Bellamy The Register-Guard

JUNCTION CITY - A year ago, the Oregon Classic offered not only wonderful golf, but wonderful drama.

An eagle from the right rough on the par-5 18th hole gave Jason Bohn the lead after 54 holes. Another eagle by Bohn on No. 18 the following day forced the first playoff in the brief history of the Nationwide Tour event at Shadow Hills Country Club.

In the end, there were two winners - Chris Couch, on the first hole of sudden death, and the tournament itself, which saw its best finish and drew its largest crowds.

"It would be pretty hard to top last year's finish," tournament director Chris Roche said. "But the play is so world-class that it's going to take care of the excitement. By now, more and more people realize just how great the play is out there.

"When you have a finish like last year, it's definitely going to carry over to the anticipation for this year."

The sixth Oregon Classic, a $450,000 Nationwide Tour event that pays $81,000 to the winner, officially begins its four-day run Thursday at the 7,020-yard, par-72 Shadow Hills course.

But both competition and festivities really begin today, with an 18-hole qualifying tournament for 14 berths in the Oregon Classic, to be held at Emerald Valley Golf Course in Creswell, and with the annual free youth clinic for kids at 4 p.m. at Shadow Hills.

On Tuesday, in addition to practice rounds at Shadow Hills, the Oregon Classic will spice up its pro-am "Pairings Party" at the Valley River Inn by offering a celebrity speaker and a comedian for entertainment, the celebrity being former Major League Baseball star Pete Rose, who holds the major-league record for hits and who is the subject of a forthcoming ESPN movie, "Hustle," chronicling his banishment from baseball for betting on games while the manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

In addition to his "Pairings Party" appearance for those playing in Wednesday's pro-am, Rose will participate in a question-and-answer session from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Valley River Inn; tickets for that are $25 and can be purchased at Knecht's Auto Parts stores or by calling the Oregon Classic office.

"For us, that was a big jump, but I think it's created some excitement and a buzz about the event," Roche said of the decision to bring in Rose, noting that local support is vital for the tournament, which in its existence has raised more than $500,000 for local causes, with most going to a Kidsports scholarship fund for playing fees.

"We want to be more than world-class golf. We want to help the community all we can, and to do that we have to deliver for sponsors and for fans."

The tournament itself should deliver, as will the golf course, its rough thick and lush because of the recent rains - although those same rains should leave the greens invitingly soft for the golfers.

Virtually all of the top 50 golfers on the Nationwide Tour money list this season are entered; the top 20 at the end of the season earn PGA Tour cards for 2005. At this point, the field includes Sunday's winner of the Virginia Beach Open, James Driscoll, as well as three golfers - Kevin Stadler, the son of PGA Tour veteran Craig Stadler, plus Jimmy Walker and Charles Warren - who have won twice on the Nationwide Tour this year, and are thus a win away from earning a direct promotion to the PGA Tour.

Though judging fields from year to year is dicey, Roche believes that this year's field could rival that for the inaugural Oregon Classic in 1998, when one future PGA Tour winner, Notah Begay III, finished second and four others - Chris Riley, Craig Perks, Matt Gogel and former Oregon star Ben Crane - didn't even make the cut, nor did previous PGA Tour winners Gene Sauers and Woody Austin.

"A field tends to create a record over a period of time," Roche said. "You look at our first field from '98, and that has all kinds of guys who have done well. That was probably our best field ever, looking back. I think this field may be similar to that."

The field also includes three golfers with strong local backgrounds - former South Eugene High School stars Jeff Quinney and Casey Martin, and former University of Oregon golfer Ryan LaVoie.

There's strong local representation, too, and some nationally prominent names, in the field of more than 110 golfers who have paid $350 each for the chance to qualify for the Oregon Classic today in an 18-hole round at Emerald Valley.

Among Nationwide Tour veterans entered are Ty Tryon, who three years ago became the youngest player to earn his PGA Tour card, at 17, and Craig Kanada, the former Lake Oswego resident. Past UO golfers in the field include Aaron Byers, Chris Carnahan, Derek Croskrey, T.J. Duncan, John Ellis and Mike Sica.

Among other noteworthy entrants - 3A state champion Jesse Schutte of Siuslaw High School, Emerald Valley pro Todd O'Neal and Brock Mackenzie, the University of Washington golfer who shot 60 last year at Eugene Country Club.

The top 14 today get to play on Thursday, when the Oregon Classic begins.

Tickets for the Oregon Classic, available at the gate at Shadow Hills, are $8 for adults and $5 for senior citizens; children under 12 are admitted free with a ticketed adult.
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Title Annotation:Sports; Organizers invite Pete Rose and tout the field for the Nationwide Tour golf event
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 13, 2004
Previous Article:Bellotti: Ducks have a need for speed.

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