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SAMMAMISH, Wash. -- The World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational will be returning to Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, for 2003-05, said PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.
 
Firestone hosted the event since the inception of the old NEC World Series of Golf in 1962. Sahalee Country Club was given the event this year because Firestone hosted the Senior PGA Championship in June.
 
Finchem also said the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship would be staying at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., for the next few years. The event has been contested at La Costa three of the four years of its existence. In 2001, it was held at The Metropolitan Club in Victoria, Australia.
 
The 2003 American Express Championship will be played at the Capital City Club in Atlanta. This year, the event is being played at Mount Juliet in Ireland, and will return to Europe in 2004, although Finchem did not say where.
 
Vista Vallarta in Puerto Rico will host this years EMC-World Cup. It will move to The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island the following year. Finchem said, We will be announcing the 2004, 2005 and 2006 locations in the next few months.
 
There is concern, however, that the World Golf Championship events are lacking in the world department.
 
Next year, all four WGC tournaments will be played in the U.S.
 
I would ask all of those interested people just to stand back and look at the broader scheme. Dont focus too much on one year, and give us a chance here to work it out, Finchem said.
 
In the long term, I think well have a mix that everybody will be reasonably comfortable with.
 
As for Sahalee, Finchem said a return to the Pacific Northwest might be possible.
 
There are four or five markets in the United States where we dont play that wed like to on a regular basis, he said. Portland and Seattle are on that short list, along with probably St. Louis (which was to host the 2001 American Express before it was canceled due to the terrorist attacks), Minnesota (which hosted last weeks PGA Championship) and Boston.
 

Funk Fest Continues
 
Fred Funk solidified himself as a fan favorite with his fist pumps and gyrations in last weeks PGA Championship. He also solidified the final spot in this weeks World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational with his tie for fourth at Hazeltine.
 
'It was the highlight of my career, the atmosphere last week,' Funk said.
 
Funks performance moved him to 50th on the Official World Golf Ranking, which gained him the final spot in the 78-man field this week at Sahalee Country Club. The top 50 after the PGA Championship earned an invite into the NEC event.
 
Dudley Hart fell out of the top 50 by missing the cut in the seasons final major.
 

Easy Money
 
The NEC is one of only five official events on the PGA Tour without a cut (Mercedes, WGC-Match Play, WGC-American Express, Tour Championship). That means guaranteed money for all 78 players in the field.
 
First place pays $1 million, while dead last still gets you $25,000.
 

International Invitational
 
The field has increased dramatically this year as opposed to the first three years of the WGC-NEC. The sizes for the first three events were 41, 37 and 40 players.
 
The top 50 ranked players in the world are now eligible to compete ' as opposed to just Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team members ' but you might not recognize everyone in the field. Since tournament officials now allow players who have won select worldwide events, there are four players ranked outside the top 200 in attendance.
 
Tobias Dier is in on the strength of his European Tour Dutch Open victory. Ricardo Gonzalez won the 2001 Omega European Masters to qualify. Nicolas Lawrence, ranked 398th in the world, is in because he won the 2002 Southern Africa Tour Championship. Japans Nobuhito Sato and Korean Charlie Wi are also playing because they won designated worldwide events.
 
Including the U.S., 20 countries are represented in the field.
 

American Rose
 
Justin Rose made his American debut last week in the PGA Championship and is making it two in a row in the States this week outside of Seattle.
 
Im really, really enjoying myself, said Rose, who is among 14 players making their maiden World Golf Championships start at the NEC.
 
Rose, who has won four times around the world this year, including twice on the European Tour, is still getting accustomed to American golf.
 
I think theres possibly a bigger emphasis on short game. I think you need to play a bigger variety of shots around the green. I wouldnt say tee-to-green its any more difficult or any more testing (than in Europe), he explained.
 
The 22-year-old Englishman is also trying to acclimate himself to the U.S. galleries.
 
They were very vocal (last week in Minnesota), start to finish. What struck me really was the crowds on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday ' I thought it was amazing, really, to have three practice days where you have 25,000 people.
 
Rose, who also said he was surprised at the level of recognition he received at the PGA Championship, added he would like to one day get his PGA Tour card.
 
Im not going to (Q-School) this year, he said. But Id like to get (his card) by playing well in the majors and the World Golf Championships.
 
Full coverage of the WGC-NEC Invitational