A Stairway to Heaven


There is a definite buzz around the TPC at Sugarloaf this week, but Im not talking about the bumblebees zooming around the blooming spring flowers. I am referring to the seasons most anticipated golf tournament. Everyone is talking about the Masters.
Its why Vijay Singh is playing in his first BellSouth Classic. Davis Love III said hes not here to focus on winning the tournament. Hes concentrating on learning how to score more efficiently before teeing it up at Augusta National.
Phil Mickelson claims that his short game will receive extra attention this week as he prepares to capture his first major title. Robert Allenby opted to forego his practice round at the TPC at Sugarloaf on Tuesday so he could get an early look at the newly renovated Masters layout.
This weeks venue is not a twin sister to Alister Mackenzie's and Bobby Jones baby, but it is in many ways a distant cousin. The obvious connection is location. Both are Georgia courses surrounded by tall pines, beautiful flowers and rolling hills. Traditionally, these two designs have not been compared in distance, but with the recent lengthening of a number of holes at Augusta National, it is not a stretch nowadays to say they are similar.
Lastly, many players will tell you that the speed and texture of the Sugarloaf greens are the closest to Augustas greens of any youll find on tour. All in all, the BellSouth Classic is an ideal tune-up for the years first major.
While all look to perfect their skills on this venue for the upcoming challenge of the Masters, two men in particular have a lot to gain as they return to a tournament and a course where theyve enjoyed much success, Scott McCarron and Mickelson.

McCarron is a two-time BellSouth Classic champion, one of seven men who can claim that honor. Already with three top-10s in the 2002 season, hes on the verge of breaking through for his fourth career PGA Tour victory. It would come as no surprise to anyone if that win were to occur at this event, or even at the Masters. Hes a bomber off the tee and has found a great stride with his long putter. That combination is basically a pre-requisite for survival over the next two weeks.

Mickelson is the 2000 BellSouth Classic champion. Hes second only to McCarron in this tournaments list of career leading money winners. He readily admits that playing this golf course renews his confidence for the one week when he needs it the most - next week.
Phil is looking for satisfaction. He is hoping to silence all of his critics by winning at Augusta. The month of March was a turbulent one for the worlds No. 2 player, to say the least, as he found himself constantly defending his aggressive style of play. People will be watching Lefty closely throughout the week of the BellSouth, looking for signs of that killer instinct he typically brings to majors.

This tournaments location on the 2002 PGA Tour schedule has added much strength to its field. Love, Mickelson, Singh, Goosen, Montgomerie, and Toms are just a handful of the talent that will walk the fairways of Greg Normans design. Consider it an appetizer for the feast that feeds the world in one weeks time. These men are hungry for it and so are we.