Barbasol Championship refuses to take back seat (Jul 19, 2017)

BY AP • July 19, 2017

For those PGA Tour players who didn't qualify for the Open Championship this week, the Barbasol Championship in Opelika, Ala., is more than just another tournament.

It represents a chance to play and win against some of the world's top golfers and to make strides toward heading across the Atlantic at this time next year.

The Barbasol Championship will be contested beginning Thursday as the Lake Course at Grand National in this suburb of Auburn. It is an alternate event, but it refuses to take a back seat.

Five former major championship winners -- Jim Furyk (2003 U.S. Open), Angel Cabrera of Argentina (2007 U.S. Open, 2009 Masters), Retief Goosen of South Africa (2001, 2004 U.S. Open), Davis Love III (1997 PGA Championship) and Y.E. Yang of South Korea (2009 PGA Championship) -- headline a field of 132 players that will compete for a total purse of $3.5 million, with $630,000 and 300 FedExCup points going to the winner.

The Barbasol Championship winner earns a spot in the PGA Championship and the winner-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but not the Masters.

Also in the field are Boo Weekley, K.J. Choi of South Korea, Stuart Appleby of Australia, Ricky Barnes, Chad Campbell, Cameron Tringale, Hunter Mahan and Japan's Ryo Ishikawa. Omar Uresti, the winner of last month's PGA Professional Championship, will also test his game this week in advance of playing in the PGA Championship in August.

The Lake Course is one of three tracks at Grand National, which is part of Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Trail. It's a public course maintained to the highest of standards, and can be played every day of the year for less than $100.

Grand National is the golfing home of Auburn University. Five former Tigers players will tee it up this week in the hope that their familiarity with the Lake Course can help them shoot some low scores.

One of those former Auburn players, Patton Kizzire, is back in this year's field after playing in the Open Championship at Royal Troon in 2016. Kizzire, who captured the 2007 Southeastern Conference Championship as a member of the Auburn golf team, has missed five cuts in his last eight PGA Tour starts and slipped to No. 217 in the world rankings.

Kizzire is working through some major swing changes that have taken a toll on his confidence.

"I've struggled in the middle of the year but I've started putting some rounds together and the putter is heating up," Kizzire said Tuesday. "I'm just working on hitting the long clubs straighter because the key for me is having tournaments, days and weeks where I hit more fairways. It's been a struggle but I'm starting to see some results.

"I'm a little bitter this week that I'm not across the pond honestly. But this is a fun tournament and a chance to free wheel this thing in a familiar place."

This is the third year of the Barbasol Championship. The event was won last year by Australian Aaron Baddeley. He found himself 11 shots off the lead after 36 holes last year, but just three off the pace after round three.

After a final-round, 5-under 66, Baddeley forced sudden death with 2017 Players Championship winner Si Woo Kim of South Korea. On the fourth extra hole, No. 18, Baddeley sank a 28-foot putt for birdie to claim his fourth career PGA Tour victory, his first win since the 2011 Genesis Open.

Baddeley is not in this year's Barbasol Championship field as he finished fourth at the Australian Open last November, part of The Open Qualifying Series, to earn a trip to Royal Birkdale. He is one of seven players from the 2016 Barbasol Championship field who are competing are in the Open Championship this year.

But Furyk is here, after the 2018 Ryder Cup captain did not qualify for this week's Open Championship, the first major he's not eligible for since the 1995 Open at St. Andrews.

Furyk, 47, was ranked ninth in the world in 2015 but has dropped to No. 86 and had a rough season as he's played his way back from injury. Furyk has garnered just one top 10 finish in 15 starts this year and is 147th in the FedExCup standings, though he will not lose his card even if he does not crack the top 125 by season's end because of a money-list exemption.

After this week, there will be four tournaments left on the schedule for players to get into the top 125 and qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

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