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Winners fill list at Hayfields

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The $1.5 million Constellation Energy Classic will boast one of the strongest fields for a non-major on the Champions Tour this year, and it might need every one of its big names to draw the kind of big crowds that haven't always made it out to Baltimore's only professional golf tournament.

With a new title sponsor and a new date - the tournament had previously been played in late June and early July over its five-year history - this year's 54-hole event is scheduled to begin Friday at Hayfields Country Club in Hunt Valley.

The potential headliners include 26 of last year's top 30 money-winners, including Bruce Fleisher, Tom Kite, Dana Quigley, local favorite Jim Thorpe and Allen Doyle, who won the State Farm Senior Classic in its Hayfields debut two years ago.

Among those playing at Hayfields for the first time will be Don Pooley, who won last year's U.S. Senior Open at nearby Caves Valley, as well as Craig Stadler, who earlier this year won a Champions Tour event and a PGA Tour event in successive weeks.

The tournament will also have a bit of an international flavor, with victorious 2002 Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance of Scotland making his U.S. debut in a senior event, along with Christy O'Connor Jr. of Ireland, who won the State Farm tournament in 1999 when it was played at Hobbit's Glen in Columbia.

J.C. Snead will be returning as defending champion.

"Some of the best players in the world will be coming to Baltimore," said first-year tournament director Joe Rotellini, who is running the event for Peter Jacobsen Productions. "We have a very strong field, and we're excited about the tournament."

The buildup will begin tomorrow, with more than 100 players vying for the four remaining spots at a qualifying event at Mountain Branch Golf Club. There will also be a celebrity pro-am tomorrow and two regular pro-ams Wednesday and Thursday.

Former Oriole great Cal Ripken will serve as the tournament's honorary chairman.

According to Rotellini, the course is in excellent condition, helped by the wet spring and summer.

There is one potential stumbling block in terms of fan interest, something that led in part to State Farm's pulling out as title sponsor before last year's event. Sunday's final round will be up against the Ravens' home opener against the Cleveland Browns.

But Rotellini said golf fans will also be able to be football fans.

"There will be TVs in all the hospitality areas so they can watch," said Rotellini.

The tournament will benefit three local charities: the Kennedy Krieger Institute, Living Classrooms Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

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