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No Tiger No Problem Party Goes on at FBR

PGA Tour (75x100)SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The absence of Tiger Woods won't spoil the party at the FBR Open. It never does.
Woods' string of PGA TOUR victories is on hold at seven this week while he travels halfway around the world for the Dubai Classic. For the sixth year in a row, he is skipping the FBR and its rowdy, raucous crowds.
That won't stop a half-million or so people from making the trek to the Tournament Players Club course in north Scottsdale during the tournament's four-day run, which begins on Thursday.
Last year, a record 536,767 people attended the weeklong festivities, including record crowds of 117,540 on Friday and 168,337 on Saturday.
Among those scheduled to attend Thursday's first round is President George H.W. Bush, who is coming as a guest of the FBR.
Throughout the weekend, but especially on Saturday, the see-and-be-seen crowd packs the bars and beer stands near the clubhouse. Many of them wouldn't recognize a golf shot if it bounced off their foreheads.
Others, particularly in the din of the stadium-like 16th hole, cheer and even occasionally boo with a vigor directly proportional to the amount of 'refreshments' they have enjoyed.
'A little different than most tournaments we play, but it's fun,' said Camilo Villegas, whose wildly colorful clothes made him a crowd favorite a year ago. 'Fans go a little off the board.'
Weather is about the only thing that can dampen the enthusiasm. A bone-chilling rain forced a premature end to the pro-am round early Wednesday afternoon, but improved conditions were forecast.
There was a slight chance of showers on Thursday, with sunshine and warming conditions predicted the rest of the week.
U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, who lives a 10-minute drive from the TPC Scottsdale course, loves the tournament's atmosphere.
'It's awesome,' he said. 'I mean, 16 is even bigger than it was before. I mean, it's like hitting a shot in a baseball stadium.'
As many as 12,000 people pack the sky boxes and bleachers that surround the par-3, 162-yard 16th. Players enter through a tunnel and are greeted with cheers, their college fight songs, maybe even the national anthem of their own country if they are from outside the United States.
The roar from the 16th can be heard through much of the back nine.
'Eleven and 12 are on one side of the lake and you can hear all the silliness on 16,' the Australian Ogilvy said, 'and then you go away from it, and it builds as you come. It's a buildup all day to get to 16. Seventeen is the hardest tee shot there because the people on 16, they've forgotten about you, they don't care. They'll make as much noise as they can while you're hitting.'
The environment defies the sport's gentile, sophisticated image.
'It might get old if it was every week, but it's fun once or twice a year,' Ogilvy said. 'We get the same kind of effect on the 17th hole at the Buick Open in Michigan. I mean, that's incredible, too. But here the whole golf course is like that.'
The par-71, 7,216-yard TPC Scottsdale course favors the long hitters, although softened conditions from the rain could help level the playing field.
'When it's firmer generally it probably brings down the amount of people who can play well,' Ogilvy said, 'but when it's soft it probably brings more people into it.'
Last year, big-swinging rookie J.B. Holmes shot a 21-under-par 263 to win by seven strokes in just his fourth PGA TOUR tournament. But the rest of the year was a disappointment. He missed the cut seven times and never finished better than tied for 13th.
This year, he tied for fourth in the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, but missed the cut the next two weeks.
'Actually, I feel more relaxed this week than I have been at a lot of other tournaments because so much positive stuff came from this last year,' Holmes said. 'I'm just going to go out there and have a really good time. The course sets up really good for me. I like the course, I like the crowd, I like the city -- so just go out and have fun.'
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