In 2003, billionaire Joe Hardy and his 84 Lumber Company took up sponsorship of the event which was previously known as the SEI Pennsylvania Classic. He moved the tournament to his Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa and his Mystic Rock Golf Course.
Hardy and daughter Maggie Hardy Magerko have treated players like royalty, providing plush accommodations and plenty of perks. They keep track of important dates in players' lives, like birthdays, and send plenty of presents.
Hardy also signed John Daly and Vijay Singh to corporate deals. And he bulked up the golf course to make it both picturesque and challenging.
A year ago, Hardy enticed some of the best players in the world by offering them all-expense-paid charter flights to the following weeks WGC-American Express Championship in Ireland.
One of the two Boeing 737s, however, experienced air conditioning problems, which sent smoke bellowing through the cabin. Those on-board also had to endure two refueling stops, making the total flight time nearly 20 hours.
But that hiccup hasnt kept many top players from returning this year. In fact, the field is its best ever.
While Hardy still hasnt been able to convince world No. 1 Tiger Woods to enter in his event, he has finally gotten Phil Mickelson to attend. The PGA champion will be competing for the first time in the 84 Lumber Classic, as will Fred Couples and Justin Leonard. Jim Furyk will be making his first appearance since 2002.
But, once again, Singh is the man to beat.
Five for the Title:
This will be Singhs eighth title defense of the season and his third in as many weeks. He has successfully defended on two occasions (Shell Houston, Buick Open). In last weeks title defense at the Bell Canadian Open, he tied for seventh. Singh played this event last year for the first time since 2001 and found the revamped Mystic Rock Golf Course to his liking. All 18 greens were rebuilt from 2003 and the venue was lengthened to nearly 7,500 yards. He opened in 8-under 64 and won wire-to-wire. The course underwent another facelift for this year. It is narrower and longer (at 7,511 from the tips), which should both favor Singh.
This event has been contested on three different courses over its first five years; though, some would say its more like four different courses based on the radical changes to Mystic Rock from 2003 to 2004. And DiMarco has had success on them all.
He won the inaugural event at Waynesborough in 2000; tied for 11th at Laurel Valley in 01; tied for 10th at Mystic Rock in 03; and tied for third last year. He earned his third runner-up finish of the year at the WGC-NEC Invitational, yet hes still seeking his first tour win since the 2002 Phoenix Open.
A win this week would be all-the-more special to Daly because of his relationship with Hardy. He has such affection towards the 84 Lumber founder that he refers to him as Dad. Daly hasnt had a top-10 finish since his playoff loss to Singh at Houston, but he loves this tournament. Daly tied for 13th here a year ago.
The move to Mystic Rock has suited Lickliter just fine. He tied for second in 2003 and then tied for ninth last year. Lickliter, who last won on tour in 2003 at Tucson, has only one top-10 finish this year, but he has been playing better as of late. In his last two starts, he tied for 20th at the Buick Championship and then tied for 15th at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Cink had his most successful season ever a year ago, winning twice. This year hasnt been nearly as kind. After a quick start, in which he recorded four top-10s in his first seven starts, he hasnt finished better than 12th since March. This could be the site of his turnaround. Cink tied for second last year, shooting 67-65 over the weekend to put a scare into Singh.
Playing Out the Front Nine
Four more to keep an eye on
*Phil Mickelson, who is making his debut in this event. Normally, Mickelson would be among the top 5 favorites in any tournament in which hes entered. But its after the PGA Championship and Mickelson has only one career tour win from the month of September on (2000 Tour Championship).
*Fred Couples, who is also making his first appearance in this tournament. Couples has played well in the bigger events this season, and hes got another one coming up in a few weeks ' the Presidents Cup. He needs some momentum heading into the Matches.
*Jim Furyk, who last competed in this event in 2002. Furyk seems to have run out of steam after a strong mid-summer run that climaxed with a win at the Cialis Western Open. Hes taken the last two weeks off and should be well rested.
*Pat Perez, who tied for third last year. That was his only top-10 in 2004. Hes been playing well of late, with two top-10s in his last five starts, including a tie for sixth in the PGA Championship.