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Lake Tahoe Celebrity Open to Change Format

RENO, Nev. -- No offense to Rick Rhoden or Dan Quinn, but NBC Sports has decided to change the format of its 14th annual celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe to try to give some other players a shot at the $100,000 winner's check. The American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course July 18-20 will be played for the first time using the Stableford scoring system, which places a priority on eagles and birdies.
Rhoden, the former major league pitcher, and Quinn, the ex-NHL hockey star, have combined to win eight of the last 12 tourneys played in traditional stroke play.
Rhoden has won five and Quinn three, including a 3-under par 213 last year to win by two strokes over Rhoden.
NBC officials hope the change will provide for some added drama as the field of sports stars and celebrities navigate the 6,710-yard course, especially a pair of par-5s among the three closing holes bordering the lake.
'From a television perspective, it keeps a lot more guys in the event the last day,'' said Jon Miller, NBC Sports' senior vice president of programming.
'A lot of the guys play real well, then all of the sudden they throw up an 8 or a 9 and it takes a lot of the guys out of the running,'' he told reporters during a teleconference Thursday.
Under the Stableford system, players receive points based on their score on each hole and the player with the most points wins.
A modified version of the Stableford system is used on the PGA Tour at the International each August at Castle Pines, Colo. Under the regular Stableford system to be used at Tahoe eagles are worth 5 points, birdies 4 points, pars 2 points, bogeys 1 point, and double bogey or worse no points.
'It will help a lot of guys mentally. They'll no longer be discouraged by one bad hole,'' Rhoden said Thursday.
'It will definitely keep some guys in the hunt. All the par 5s are reachable in two. Maybe now somebody else will be the pre-tournament favorite,'' he said.
Miller said the change in the tourney with a $500,000 purse wasn't directed at Rhoden and Quinn.
'They are tremendous, quality golfers and quality individuals,'' Miller said.
'Our goal here is to try to make for compelling entertainment and compelling TV. We think this will attract more golfers and open up the field to more big-name celebrities who have indicated in the past they are a little afraid to put their game on display.
'It is pretty intimidating,'' he said about the three-day event that attracted nearly 30,000 fans last year and is televised live Saturday and Sunday on NBC.
About a dozen regulars in the tournament typically shoot near or below par on the par 72 course at Stateline, Nev., including John Elway, Billy Joe Tolliver, Steve Bartkowski, Dick Anderson, Al Del Greco, Stan Humphries, Mike Schmidt and actor Jack Wagner.
But many others don't fare so well and the crowd doesn't seem to mind.
Sacramento Kings star Chris Webber finished last last year with a three-day total of 265-over-par 407 with rounds of 122, 142 and 143. But he was one of the most popular players on the course along with Michael Jordan, who finished 34 over par.
The home stretch should be especially interesting under the new format.
The 564-yard, par 5 16th plays directly toward the lake -- typically into the wind. The 207-yard par 3 17th parallels the lake, as does the 501-yard, par 5 18th, guarded by Tahoe's waters on the right and a pond in front of the green.
'This will make for a wild last three holes on Sunday,'' former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski said.
Elway said Tahoe is the perfect location for such a competition.
'The elevation and reachable par 5s will have a lot of guys taking risks,'' he said. 'And if you make a big number, it won't necessarily end your chances to win.''
Ex-NBA player Tom Tolbert, now an NBC analyst who shot 63-over 279 in his Tahoe debut last year, is another fan of the new format.
'It's great for guys who stink,'' he said. 'Who wants to grind out a quadruple bogey? It takes away from beer-drinking time.''