In 2000, Billy Andrade was fighting for his professional livelihood. His two-year exemption from winning the 1998 Bell Canadian Open was about to expire. He entered the Las Vegas event mired in 159th place on the money list.
And he left in 43rd place.
Andrade edged Phil Mickelson by a stroke and renewed his PGA Tour card for another two years.
Andre Stoltz, a rookie on tour, was in danger of heading back to the secondary circuit, until he hit the jackpot in Vegas.
Stoltz, who had just six sub-70 scores all year, fired four rounds in the 60s to beat Harrison Frazar by a stroke and catapult from 217th to 89th in earnings.
For others, this event wasnt about making some much needed money, but about ending some much unwanted schneids.
Phil Tatuarangi had never won a tour event until he did so at Vegas in 2002. That gave the oft-injured Kiwi much needed security.
And Stuart Appleby had gone four years without a victory until he beat Scott McCarron in a Vegas playoff in 2003.
Over the last half-decade, the Michelin Championship has indeed been the biggest tournament of the year ' to the winner. The lone exception was Bob Estes, who in 2001 made Vegas his second win of the season. That victory was a bonus; though, it did tack on an additional year of exempt status.
With just four full-field events remaining on the 2005 tour calendar, it is quite possible that Vegas will once again greatly influence a players future.
That is, unless the winner happens to be someone like Jim Furyk. Which is quite possible.
Five for the Title:
Long before he was Tiger Woods team partner of choice, and long before he was a major champion, Furyk was golf's Wayne Newton. Furyks maiden tour victory came in Sin City in 1995. He won again in 98, and yet again in 99. Its been six years since he stood next to the token showgirls with trophy in hand, but its not as if hes gone bust during that winless span. In his last five Vegas starts, Furyk has four top-20s, including a fourth-place finish in 2002. Furyk already has one win this year, prevailing at the Cialis Western Open. Its the ninth time in the last 11 years that he has had at least one win on tour. However, he has only one other multiple-win season; that coming in 2003, when he won the U.S. Open and the Buick Open.
Like Furyk, Appleby has won this tournament before, doing so in 2003. He also already has a win under his belt this season, at the Mercedes Championships. But what he doesnt have is even a single multiple-win season in his career. Appleby has been playing well of late. He has four top-15 finishes in his last five starts.
The good news for DiMarco is that he has had success in this tournament. He owns the course record at Southern Highlands GC (61). The bad news is that Southern Highlands is no longer in the rotation. The tournament was reduced from 90 holes to 72 last year, and SH was replaced with Bears Best. The event is still 72 holes this year, but the courses have been pared down to the host TPC at Summerlin and the TPC at The Canyons. DiMarco missed the cut in this event his first four times, but has made his last four cuts and tied for fifth in 2000.
While much is made about DiMarcos winless streak on tour, which reaches back to the 2002 FBR Open, Verplank hasnt won since the 2001 Bell Canadian Open. He has two runner-up finishes this season, which gives him four over the last three years. He has three top-10s in his last seven Vegas starts.
Because of the time of the season, Mickelson hasnt been mentioned among the favorites in his last few starts. But he might have a chance to win just his second tour event ever after the month of August (2000 Tour Championship). Lefty has four top-10s in 11 Vegas starts and was runner-up in 2000. Hes back this year after withdrawing after two solid rounds a year ago due to illness.
Playing Out the Front Nine
Four more to keep an eye on
*Tom Lehman, who was the 54-hole leader a year ago. Lehman closed in 69 to tie for second. It was his second runner-up finish in the last four years in this event.
*Chris Riley, who went to school at UNLV. Its been a long, difficult year for Riley, who has struggled ever since the 2004 Ryder Cup. Hes in need of some home cooking, having made only 10 of 21 cuts this season.
*Ryan Moore, who also went to UNLV. Moore had one of the greatest ever amateur seasons in 2004. Now a professional, he is on the verge of getting his tour card for next year through sponsors exemptions. He could clinch his card this week.
*Andre Stoltz, who is the defending champion. Stoltz is lucky to have a two-year exemption, as he has been limited to just 12 starts this season and has but three made cuts. Furyk is the only player to successfully defend his Vegas title.