Have You Driven a Ford Lately

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MIAMI, Fl. -- A good course, one visiting tournament director said Tuesday, is extremely important in drawing the top players.
 
Added a PGA Tour official, 'You walk on the grounds this year and you get the feel you're at a bigger event.'
 
Two years ago at the Ford Championship at Doral none of the six top-ranked players in the world entered this event. Last year that number improved to three out of the top 10. This year it's 10 of the top 11. World No. 3 Ernie Els, entered at Dubai this week, is absent.
 
Yes, Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Padraig Harrington, David Toms, Mike Weir and Stewart Cink will all tee it up Thursday.
 
Used to be this tournament signaled the real start of the PGA Tour season and the run to the Masters. Then the West Coast Swing got hot; Doral went through a minor identity crisis; and the weather didn't especially cooperate.
 
This year's Ford Championship has a new tournament director, the energetic Eddie Carbone, and it has a renewed commitment from its title sponsor, Ford. And the place has new ownership and management.
 
The golf course itself has been spruced up and an earlier-than-usual overseed has it looking green and terrific. The famed Blue Monster 18th hole regained its teeth last year when it finished statistically as the toughest hole on the PGA Tour.
 
And Ford got a great ending in 2004 when Craig Parry holed a 6-iron on the final hole for an eagle to beat Scott Verplank.
 
Add onto that the fact that the 2005 PGA Tour season has turned into something of a prolonged all-star game. Winners have included Singh, Woods, Mickelson(twice), Scott, Toms, Justin Leonard and Stuart Appleby.
 
The cream has risen to the top in 2005 early and often. And the result is that the pre-tournament hype at Doral has taken on a whiff of the air of a major. Certainly the world-ranking points total earned by the winner will be a big number.
 
For his part, Parry was off Tuesday afternoon to a nearby race track to take a spin at 160 miles an hour, courtesy of the good folks at Ford. But before he departed the grounds he remarked that his room is farther from the golf course than it was last year.
 
That's when he famously overslept Thursday and almost missed his tee time.
 
This year the field is too good, the reward too high. If Parry fails to successfully defend his title here this week, it won't be because he didn't make it to the first tee on time.
 
There's too much at stake.
 
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