Opening round action gets underway Thursday at the picturesque Del Rio Country Club, a 6,837-yard, par-72 track in Modesto, with 156 golfers pegging it up in the Tours fourth official event of the season.
Californian Jim Seki, who had made just one of nine cuts on the Canadian Tour dating back to last spring, shocked even himself Sunday afternoon with a two-shot win at the Northern California Classic in nearby Stockton. The 24-year-old will be back in Modesto this week looking for the California sweep.
Seki will not be the only American hoping for a championship on his native soil. Matt Bettencourt, a Modesto native who also holds playing status on the Nationwide Tour this season, would like nothing more than to notch his first Tour championship in his hometown. Bettencourt is coming off a T15 last week in Stockton.
Scott Gibson begins the week in top spot on the money list and will be chasing his second win of the year, while Robert Hamilton, the 2001 U.S. Amateur runner-up and another local favourite, is also in the starting field. Rob Johnson of Terre Haute, Ind. has three Tour triumphs since 2003 and is coming off a second-place showing at the Northern California Classic.
Other U.S.-born players to keep an eye on in Modesto include Peter Tomasulo, Stephen Gangluff, Chris Wall, John Mallinger, Craig Kanada, Bobby Kalinowski, Michael Harris, Scott Ford, Ryan Miller and Stephen Woodard.
Former PGA Tour regulars Casey Martin and Joe Acosta, Jr. will both play their second consecutive Tour event on a sponsors exemption.
On the Canadian front, Derek Gillespie and Rob McMillan head into this week as the top earnings leaders from north of the border. Both are tied for ninth on the money list despite missing the cut at Brookside. Brennan Webb of Bracebridge, Ont. enjoyed his best career result last week by placing sixth and will be looking to build on that momentum at Del Rio. Darren Griff, Matt McQuillan, Dan Swanson, Ben Ferguson, Adam Short, Lee Curry, Brad Fritsch, Craig Matthew, Chris Baryla and Stuart Anderson are other players from Canada to watch.
Several international players will also be searching for a win in the final tournament of the season-opening, four-event run through the U.S., including South African Alan McLean, who now lives in Thunder Bay, Ont., Brazils Alex Rocha, Australian Ben Bunny and Iain Steel of Malaysia.
Tournament organizers Ed Brink and Pat Bennett will donate all money collected from ticket sales to the First Tee of Modesto, a program geared to teaching children life skills through the game of golf. Last week, Brink and Bennett handed over all gate receipt revenue to the Hospice of San Joaquin and American Cancer Society (San Joaquin/Calaveras Unit).
Del Rio is a major supporter of The First Tee and in fact teamed with the City of Modesto to launch the local chapter in 2003.
For more information on the host course this week, please visit www.delriocountryclub.com . Information on the First Tee program can be obtained at www.thefirsttee.org while tournament and Tour details are available at www.cantour.com
Some of the biggest names in professional golf have plied their trade on the Canadian Tour including 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir, 2005 Masters runner-up Chris DiMarco, Stuart Appleby, Craig Parry, Steve Stricker and Scott McCarron. The top 25 Tour grads have won more than $150 million US on golfs biggest stage.