Countdown Continues at Kemper


The countdown to the 102nd U.S. Open continues, as the PGA Tour heads to the East Coast for the Kemper Insurance Open in Potomac, Md.
This is the penultimate event before the seasons second major championship at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y.
Frank Lickliter is the defending champion. He captured his first tour title at the Tournament Players Club at Avenal ' though, it didnt come easy.
In February of 2001, Lickliter lost to Phil Mickelson in a playoff at the Buick Invitational. Mickelson hit his tee shot out of bounds on the third hole of sudden death, only to have Lickliter follow his lead. Mickelson made double bogey; Lickliter carded a triple.
Three months later, Lickliter almost blew it again.
Leading by three with three to play, Lickliter went bogey-bogey to shrink his lead to a single stroke. He then missed the green at the par-4 18th, and had to sink a gut-wrenching eight-footer for par and a one-shot win over J.J. Henry.
Lickliter had rounds of 69-65-66-68 at the par-71 venue to finish at 16-under-par 268.
It took me longer than I thought to get a win, said Lickliter, who joined the tour in 1996. Torrey Pines was a good experience for me. Theyre all learning experiences. Some of them arent fun, but this one was.
The now 32-year-old Ohioan earned nearly $2 million last year, finishing 19th on the money list. An outdoorsman who is seldom seen without his wrap-around sunglasses, the emotional Lickliter seems to finally be rounding into form this season. He recently recorded his two best finishes of the year, a tie for eighth in the Verizon Byron Nelson Classic and a tie for 12th at the MasterCard Colonial.
This is the 35th playing of the Kemper. Each of the last three champions were maiden winners on tour. Rich Beem won in 1999. Tom Scherrer prevailed in 2000.
Another first-time winner could wear the crown come Sunday, as most of the top-ranked players have decided to bypass this event. Chris DiMarco is the lone representative of the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
The purse is $3.5 million, with a $630,000 first-place prize. Only one player has ever successfully defended his title ' Craig Stadler, 1981-82.
Full field and tee times for the Kemper Insurance Open