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Lumbering for the Last Time

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84 Lumber ClassicWhen youre a struggling journeyman like Jason Gore, it might seem enough to just have one shining moment, such as he did in the 2005 U.S. Open. That week in Pinehurst, in and of itself, was a fairytale for the big fella.
 
It might then seem a bit excessive to go ahead and add to the story by having him win three Nationwide Tour events, shoot a 59 along the way, and earn a promotion to the PGA TOUR.
 
Jason Gore
Jason Gore reacts to his maiden PGA TOUR victory.
And it might seem even more unbelievable for him to actually win on TOUR and have a guaranteed place to play ' on the premiere golf circuit, nonetheless ' for a couple of years.
 
But, all of the above came true for Gore last year, for a man who had struggled to find any permanent golfing home, and for one who gave serious contemplation to giving up the game professionally.
 
A fairytale, yes ' but the rare, non-fiction kind.
 
Gores crowning achievement came in Farmington, Penn., at the 84 Lumber Classic. After taking a two-stroke lead into the final round, he held on to win by one over Carlos Franco by making a short par putt on the 72nd hole.
 
Gore, who has struggled a bit this year with only three top-10 finishes, will get a chance this week to defend his title. This years winner will have no such opportunity in 2007.
 
This will be the seventh and final edition of the 84 Lumber, as tournament officials announced earlier this year that they were dropping their sponsorship with the PGA TOUR.
 
The event was to be played the week after next years U.S. Open, a more attractive spot on the TOUR schedule than in the fall. But, Maggie Hardy Magerko, 84 Lumber president and daughter of company and tournament founder Joe Hardy, said the tournament would be discontinued as part of a strategic growth plan to help the company hit $10 billion in sales by 2009.
 
The elder Hardy has put more than $80 million into the event over the last few years to attract big name players. He signed Vijay Singh and John Daly to sponsorship contracts, got Phil Mickelson to play last year, and almost enticed Tiger Woods to play.
 
In addition to renovating the Mystic Rock Golf Course, which is located on the grounds of his plush Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Hardy is known for treating players like royalty during tournament week; sending them Christmas gifts; and even flying them to other tournaments, like he did in 2004 for all those competing in the 84 Lumber and the WGC-American Express Championship, which was contested the following week in Ireland.
 
There is no Phil or Tiger this year, but there is a certain 16-year-old girl.
 
Michelle Wie will be playing for the third time this season on the PGA TOUR, and for the sixth time overall. She missed the cut at this years Sony Open and then withdrew after nine holes of the second round at the John Deere Classic, when she was sent to the hospital for exhaustion.
 
Last week, she competed in the European Tours Omega European Masters, where she missed the cut. She has made one cut in 10 career starts in mens events, earlier this year at the SK Telecom Open in South Korea.
 
While Wie will be hoping to hang around for the weekend, here are five others in the field with hopes of actually winning this final installment.
 
Vijay Singh
Vijay Singh receives the champion's jacket from tournament founder Joe Hardy.
Vijay Singh
Singh, who is sponsored by 84 Lumber, won here in 2004 and tied for 13th a year ago. He won nine times total in '04, including at the Canadian Open. Last week in Canada, though, he never contended. Perhaps there was a bit of a hangover from his disappointing loss to Woods in the previous week's Deutsche Bank Championship. Or, it could be that he just wasn't overly fond of the venue, which changes year-to-year for that tournament -- and wasn't the same course on which he won in '04. But Mystic Rock is where Singh won this tournament two years ago; and he should be the favorite to do it again this time around.
 
Chris DiMarco
DiMarco won the inaugural 84 Lumber Classic in 2000, back before Hardy took over ownership and when it was known as the SEI Pennsylvania Classic. Waynesborough Country Club was the host six years ago, but the change of venue hasnt had much of an affect on his play in this tournament. Since moving to Mystic Rock in 2003, DiMarco has gone T10, T3, T5. This is the final tournament before the Ryder Cup. DiMarco seems to shine in team competitions, but he hasnt won one of the individual kind on TOUR since the 2002 Phoenix Open.
 
Jonathan Byrd
Byrd got off to a decent start this year, collecting three top-10 finishes in his first eight events. But he hadnt earned one since the BellSouth Classic in early April -- until last week, when he tied for third. This could prove to be the perfect tournament for him to win. He has two prior TOUR titles, at the 2002 Buick Challenge and the 04 B.C. Open, events that have either run their course or will no longer be in existence next season ' just like the 84 Lumber. Byrd tied for third here in 2004 and tied for fifth last year.
 
Frank Lickliter
Lickliter narrowly advanced from Q-school a year ago to earn his playing status for 06. The two-time TOUR winner, whose last victory came in 2003 at Tucson, doesnt have to worry about a return trip to the Qualifying Tournament this time around, as he has made around $800,000 this year. He has been playing well of late, tying for fourth in Milwaukee and tying for seventh at the Deutsche Bank Championship. He tied for 17th last week in Canada. He has a pair of top-10s in this event over the last three years, including a tie for second in 03.
 
Robert Allenby
Allenby has had a fairly successful season, having earned over $1.3 million. But he doesnt yet have a victory on TOUR' and hasnt had won since, believe it or not, this event in 2001. Allenby has never missed the cut in this tournament. He tied for second in his title defense in 02, and has a pair of top-20s over the last two years.
 
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