Originally created 08/10/00

Tiger's presence dominates Buick Open



GRAND BLANC, Mich. -- Tom Pernice Jr. is back to defend his Buick Open championship, and almost nobody cares.

Tiger Woods is in town.

"He brings a lot of people to the gate," said Pernice, who had never won before -- and has hardly been heard from since -- his victory over a faltering Tom Lehman last year. "But it's not going to change how I play. I just have to play my own game."

Woods, in his first tournament since completing the Grand Slam with victory at the British Open last month, isn't the only star on hand at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club. Only the brightest.

This is the last stop before the PGA Championship next week at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville. That's the final major of the season and Warwick Hills is seen as the perfect place for fine-tuning.

"You can use your driver here," said Woods, who played Tuesday at Valhalla on his way to Michigan.

Sizzling scores are common at Warwick Hills. At 7,101 yards, it is fairly short for the PGA Tour pros, especially playing to a par of 72.

Jim Furyk shot a 62 here in 1995, which Sonny Skinner matched in 1997. In 1987, Robert Wrenn set the tournament record at 262 -- 26 under par.

The golf course is lovingly cared for, with well-watered fairways and soft, smooth greens that roll safe and true. Just the ticket for building confidence, especially the week before a major.

"Nobody grows rough like the U.S. Open or the PGA," Davis Love III said after Wednesday's pro-am event was shortened because of lightning. "Nobody gets greens as fast as Augusta.

"The best thing to do is compete the week before (a major) and not worry about the golf course."

As a result, many of the game's best players are at Warwick Hills this week.

Masters champion Vijay Singh, the only player other than Woods with a major title this year, is playing, along with Fred Couples, Lee Janzen, Justin Leonard, Phil Mickelson, Jeff Sluman and Hal Sutton.

David Duval has planned to play, but that was before back problems at the British Open.

Ernie Els, who won the International last week, took this week off. He is home, practicing in Orlando. Els is second to Woods on the PGA Tour's money list, trailing by about $2.6 million.

"When the tournament starts, you've got to stop worrying about how much they write about Tiger," Singh said. "We get so engrossed in how good he's playing, we don't play well. We don't really go out and play our game."

Lehman, who is skipping this year's tournament, took a 4-stroke lead into the final round a year ago but lost. Pernice picked up five shots on Lehman on the back nine, all of them on holes 13, 14 and 15.

"Out of nowhere, putts started flying in," Pernice recalled. "Then, lo and behold, all of a sudden I was in the lead and didn't know much about it. Things just worked out."

Buick increased the purse for this open to $2.7 million, a $300,000 increase over last year. The winner Sunday will earn $486,000 plus use of a new car for one year.