Big Week in the Big Easy

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2006 Zurich ClassicTournament officials believed that this day would come. They knew ' at least they were pretty sure ' that there would be a 2006 Zurich Classic. They just didnt know if it would be called the Zurich Classic of New Orleans or of Elsewhere.
 
With all that Hurricane Katrina took away from the Gulf Coast region, it left just as much ' chaos, destruction, doubt.
 
Phil Mickelson
With players like Phil Mickelson on hand, crowds are again expected around 30,000 over the weekend.
We had a group of us go to Ponte Vedra (home to PGA TOUR headquarters in Florida) 10 days after the storm, said Mike Rodrigue, Chairman of the Board and Founder of the Fore!Kids Foundation, the tournaments primary beneficiary. We just didnt know what course was going to be available. There was talk of moving it for 2006 to the east coast. But we had a full commitment from Zurich to play the tournament in town.
 
They also got the OK from English Turn Golf & Country Club.
 
The TPC of Louisiana, the host site for all of one year, experienced significant flooding and tree damage. It didnt take much of an assessment to determine that it would not be up to par come tournament time.
 
English Turn, on the other hand, escaped ruin. And, given the fact that it had played host from 1989-2004, it was a natural selection.
 
With the TOUR holding a tournament here for so many years, there was pretty much a plan in place, said Matt Yount, English Turn course superintendent.
 
We lost about 300 trees, he added, but were able to stand some back up. We replaced others with groups of younger, smaller trees. Hopefully, the course will play similarly to the way they are used to playing it.
 
The return to English Turn will be welcomed by many of the top-ranked players in the field.
 
Last years event at the TPC course ' which was to be the permanent site pre-Katrina ' was won by Tim Petrovic in a playoff over James Driscoll. Conversely, past winners at English Turn include the likes of Vijay Singh, David Toms, and Davis Love III.
 
Singh, who won the last time the tournament was contested here in 2004, is not in this weeks field; neither is Love. But Toms is here, as are Masters champion Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen, who is making his first appearance in support of the area.
 
This event annually brings in over $25 million for the economy and around $1 million for charity.
 
The purse is $6 million, with the winner taking $1.08 million. Here is the list of favorites to take home top prize:
 
Phil Mickelson
Mickelson already has his sights set on Winged Foot, site of the U.S. Open. But this will hardly be a tune-up with the seasons second major championship almost two months away. Lefty will be making his first start since donning his second green jacket in three years. In addition to the overload of confidence he is feeling at the moment, he has some very positive memories of this layout. He skipped the tournament last year, but in five starts at English Turn, he has three top-10s, including runner-up finishes in both 2001 and 2004.
 
David Toms
Toms has a sketchy past in this tournament, with five missed cuts and a withdrawal, compared to just two top-10s, in 13 career starts. But one of those top-10s was a victory in 2001 ' one that came to much fanfare. The Louisiana native and LSU star, who through his own charitable foundation has given much back to the community in this time of need, would love to give the locals something to celebrate again. He got off to a great start this year, winning the Sony Open and earning four top-10s in his first six events. He has since missed three of four cuts. This could be the perfect setting to get his game back on track.
 
Steve Flesch
Flesch, like Toms, is hoping that a return to a winning site will turnaround his fortunes. The left-hander has only one top-10 in 12 events this season, and missed his fifth cut of the year last week in Houston. But he won this tournament in 2003 and finished runner-up here in both 1998 and 99. He also tied for sixth in 2000.
 
Retief Goosen
Five of the last seven winners at English Turn have been international players. That should bode well for Goosen. The South African, who is making his tournament debut, has yet to win this season, but seems to be on the cusp of doing so. In his last three starts, he has finished runner-up at The Players Championship; tied for fourth at the BellSouth Classic; and tied for third at the Masters Tournament. He has at least one win on TOUR each of the last five years.
 
David Duval
Is Duval really among the favorites? No, but it will be quite interesting to see how he bounces back from what may have been his Masters finale. Will we see the Duval who shot 43 on the front side of his second round at Augusta or the Duval who shot 32 on the back nine of that 75? Or will we again see both sides of this Jekyll and Hyde. Duvals best finish at this event came in a third-place showing in 1995.
 
Related Links:
  • Golf Chronicles: After Katrina
  • Professional Golf Returns to New Orleans
  • Full Coverage ' Zurich Classic of New Orleans