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Absence of elite gives others a chance; Beem's victory last year seen as a breakthrough; Kemper Open notebook


POTOMAC - Although some casual golf fans will be disappointed that stars like Tiger Woods, David Duval and Phil Mickelson will be skipping the Kemper, there are plenty of people who don't mind the absence of the creme de la creme.

Players who are struggling to retain their playing privileges on the tour see weeks like this as a chance to break through, much like 1999 champion Rich Beem did.

"Without the top players in the field, you might have a slightly better chance to win," said Bart Bryant, who graduated from the tour's qualifying school this year. "But you still have to make the shots and beat the course either way."

And it's not like the field is a throwaway either, with Ernie Els, Lee Janzen and Mark O'Meara among the many major title winners scheduled to compete.

Lehman back in swing

This week will be the second tournament back for Tom Lehman, who returned from a one-month layoff last week at the Memorial. Lehman, who won the 1996 British Open after near-misses in the U.S. Open in '95 and '96, finished in a tie for 41st in Ohio, but feels like his game didn't rust much while he was resting an injured arm.

"I actually played a lot better than I shot last week," said Lehman, who won the $1 million Williams World Challenge and Phoenix Open in January. "This course is something of a target course and you need to be very precise with your irons because there are very small greens. It's a great test."


Two-time U.S. Open champion Els didn't practice at Avenel yesterday because he was hosting a luncheon at Whiskey Creek Golf Club in Urbana. The course is his initial foray into the design field. Els is scheduled to tee off in tomorrow's Pro-Am at 12:55 p.m. ... Fulton Allem, John Cook, Billy Mayfair, Corey Pavin and Brian Watts all withdrew from the tournament, opening up spots for Bob Gilder, Jim Gallagher Jr., David Ogrin, Larry Rinker and Mark Carnevale. ... The Kemper Pro-Am begins today at 7 a.m. and features Els, Justin Leonard, Steve Elkington, Steve Stricker and Casey Martin playing with amateur partners.

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