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Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Despite long course, putting needed at 84 Lumber

By John Antonini
GolfDigest.com

A week after playing one of the shortest courses on the PGA Tour -- Hamilton G&CC for the Canadian Open -- players will tee it up on one of the longest, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort's Mystic Rock course, the site of this week's 84 Lumber Classic. Playing at 7,516 yards, the Rock is hard. It's long, sure, but the Pete Dye-designed course has tight fairways with big bunkers, huge rolling greens and plenty of water.

Someone who can position his ball has a better chance than the pure bomber, but remember last year's winner, Jason Gore, is known more for his long drives than ball-striking. A closer look at Gore's statistics that week shows it wasn't just his length that propelled him to his first PGA Tour win, however. Second in distance, he also hit 53 greens (2nd), and his average approach was 29 feet, 7 inches from the hole (7th). The length helped, but those peripheral stats were the keys to victory.

If you look at the list of players who finished directly behind Gore (Carlos Franco, Ben Crane, Tim Herron, Cameron Beckman, Jonathan Byrd, Chris DiMarco and John Huston), you won't find many long hitters. There are, however, some pretty good putters and solid ball-strikers. Maybe it's because everyone goes deep at Mystic Rock. Huston and Franco, among others, did average more than 300 yards off the tee, but approach shots and putting are what will set you apart.

It's also worth mentioning that this will be the last 84 Lumber Classic. Tournament host Joe Hardy, who successfully lobbied the tour for better dates on the 2007 calendar -- from the fall to mid-June -- abruptly pulled the plug on the event. Still, the players love Hardy's tournament, and the field is probably stronger than you'd expect for a mid-September event, with five Ryder Cup players and Vijay Singh and John Daly in the field.

Michelle Wie, fresh off her disastrous performance in Switzerland, is also playing, as is Australian Jason Day, 18.

This course is probably too hard for Wie, who is in on a sponsor's exemption, but Day, who has won more than $150,000 while playing on sponsors' exemptions of his own, does have the tools to play well this week.

The fearsome foursome

Sean O'Hair: He's not dominant in any one statistical category, but his overall rank (T-64) shows that the second-year player is doing a solid job. Plus, he's been successful recently, with a third-place finish last week. He also has a T-4 and pair of top-15 finishes at majors in his last five starts. I wouldn't normally think a player who did well on the short Hamilton G&CC course would be able to do well on a much longer venue, but O'Hair is long enough off the tee and playing so well lately that the course shouldn't matter.

Vijay Singh: Hands down the best player in the field, Singh has been making strides since missing the cut at the PGA Championship (2nd in Boston, T-35 in Canada). He's T-20 in GIR and 10th in putting this year, so it will come down to where he hits his drives in Pennsylvania.

Chris DiMarco: Along with David Toms, DiMarco is probably the second-best player in the field, and he has a good history at this event. He won in 2000 when the tournament was held at Waynesboro CC in eastern Pennsylvania and has been T-10, T-3 and T-5 since Mystic Rock became its home in 2003. A victory by DiMarco would give U.S. Ryder Cuppers wins in the last three events (Woods, Furyk). Not a bad way to go to Ireland.

Camilo Villegas: The young Colombian was in the top 10 in greens hit and putts last week, and the way he hits the ball off the tee cannot be overlooked at Mystic Rock. He just needs to improve his putting from short distances if he expects to win his first PGA Tour event.

John Antonini is a senior editor for Golf World magazine