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Early Date Doesnt Deter Big Names

2005 Buick InvitationalThe Buick Invitational will feature many of the same players it usually does. Two-time champion Tiger Woods will be on hand, as will three-time winner Phil Mickelson, who will be making his season debut. World No. 1 Vijay Singh is in the field, as are Sergio Garcia, Fred Couples and David Duval.
And then theres John Daly, who will be back to try and defend his title.
But if this years Buick Invitational feels a little differently than in years past, there is one good reason: a change in date.
The PGA Tour, in an effort to keep the FBR Open on Super Bowl weekend, moved the Buick forward three weeks. Its the earliest date for the event, which takes place at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif., in 25 years.
Tournament director Tom Wilson expressed concern when he learned last year of the official change in date. He was curious to see if volunteer support would diminish because of the proximity to the holidays. He was concerned that the two courses, the North and South, might need that extra few weeks to reach tour-caliber quality. And he wasnt sure what factor weather would play ' and, oh boy, has it played a major role already.
Its not only rained in Southern California, its flooded many parts of the region. San Diego County has reportedly already surpassed its annual average rainfall for the entire season.
The forecast calls for sunny skies this week, but the effects of the storms will linger.
One of the primary causes for concern are the greens on the North Course. They are some 30 years old and dont hold water as well as the greens on the South Course, which were rebuilt in 2001. That means they may be quite spongy.
And all of these problems dont even factor in public parking, course traffic and television crews.
But somehow, someway, there will be a tournament at Torrey Pines.
Daly will be looking to become the third player in tournament history to successfully defend his title. He won last years edition by beating Chris Riley and Luke Donald in a playoff. His bunker shot, which led to the clinching birdie on the first extra hole, was one of the indelible moments of 2004. It marked his first win since the 1995 British Open.
With Mother Natures permission, there are plenty of other storylines just waiting to be played out.
Woods, who won here in 1999 and 2003, is still in search of his first stroke-play title on the PGA Tour in 15 months. He said that he struck the ball well in his season debut at the Mercedes Championships. But he averaged 30.5 putts per round in finishing tied for third.
Mickelson once again skipped the season-opener in Hawaii in order to extend his vacation with his family.
The last time anyone saw Mickelson in competition he was firing 59 to win the PGA Grand Slam. The record performance capped off another roller-coaster season for the left-hander ' and made sure it ended on a high note.
His 2004 certainly started on a similar positive note, when he won in his first start at the Bob Hope. He then claimed his first major at the Masters and nearly won a couple of more majors. But then things started to go downhill. He was highly criticized for switching clubs prior to the Ryder Cup, was a part of a calamitous pairing with Woods at Oakland Hills, withdrew after becoming ill at the Michelin Championship in Las Vegas, and then broke 70 only once ' with his new Callaway clubs ' in his final two official events.
Fortunately for him, his two days in Hawaii gave him some positive momentum to take into this season.
The South Course will also be in the spotlight. The 7,568-yard beast, which underwent a $3.3 million transformation, will host the 2008 U.S. Open. It will be just the second public venue to host the National Championship, following in the footsteps of Bethpage Black in 2002.
The South is the host course this week. Players will rotate between the two layouts over the first two days, before playing the South exclusively over the weekend.
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