As play begins, event's future uncertain


POTOMAC -- After going to Congressional Country Club in 1980, the Kemper Open became a must-play event on the PGA Tour schedule. Though the move seven years later to the nearby Tournament Players Club at Avenel lessened its popularity among the players, it still seemed to be one of the tour's more stable events.

Now it's teetering on extinction.

Uncertainty is the dominant theme going into today's opening round of the Booz Allen Classic, the third year under that corporate logo after one year as the short-lived FBR Capital Open. The sub-plot is a noticeable lack of big names, with no players among the top 20 in the world rankings.

In a teleconference with reporters yesterday, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said that he remains hopeful that an event close to the nation's capital will be on the schedule next fall and, if a title sponsor can't be found in time, then in the near future. Finchem said a May 15 deadline to secure a sponsor has been extended.

"We haven't set a drop-dead date," Finchem said. "It's hard to imagine a situation that would go past the middle of September at the very latest."

Finchem added that a proposed $18 million-to-$20 million plan to renovate the course and facilities should begin after the tour secures the proper permits at a Montgomery County zoning meeting scheduled next month. Finchem said the tour is not solely responsible for the event either being moved to the fall next year or eliminated.

"The bottom line is that we were not comfortable, and neither was Booz Allen in continuing a date structure that has historically led to an event that would not be the kind of event on a number of levels that we'd like to see over the long term in the nation's capital," Finchem said. "We wanted the opportunity to do something better."

Booz Allen officials had balked at the tour's plan to move the event to the fall, after the conclusion of the FedEx Cup series that beginning next year will lead up to the Tour Championship, and decided not to renew its contract.

If this is the last tour event in the nation's capital for the foreseeable future, its regular participants will be sorry to see it go.

"We're a very big market here," said Fred Funk, who grew up in College Park, where he later played for and coached at the University of Maryland. "We should be in our nation's capital. I don't think you have to say anything more than that."

Former PGA champion Rich Beem, who won his first tour event at Avenel in 1999, was even more blunt.

"If we don't get another tournament back here, I will be extremely disappointed in our leadership at the PGA Tour," Beem said. "I think it would take away some of my confidence in their ability to effectively lead this tour."

Meanwhile, this year's tournament begins with little fanfare today. With defending champion Sergio Garcia of Spain withdrawing Monday because of a recurring back injury, thus joining former champion Adam Scott and Chris DiMarco among the more prominent pullouts, it leaves Funk and former champion Tom Kite, already a member of the Champions Tour, as two of the biggest draws in the field.

Only two players are ranked in the world's top 25, Padraig Harrington and Kenny Perry.

"I get tired of hearing that," said Funk, who turned 50 last week. "We go to different venues around the country that aren't blessed with Phil, Vijay, Tiger. There's a great group of players here. I don't consider any field on the tour a weak field. A winning score is going to be pretty much the same whether it's [ones of the big names] or they're not here."

Funk has come close to winning at Avenel once, taking a lead into the final round in 1998 before fading. Perhaps the uncertainty of this year's event will help a player on the verge of making his Champions Tour debut.

"Seems like my history of tournaments I've won, they've either gotten rid of the tournament or they moved the date," said Funk, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year's Players Championship. "So I should win this week by default."

Booz Allen Classic

When --Today-Sunday

Where --TPC at Avenel, Potomac

Directions from Baltimore --Take I-95 south to I-495 west toward Silver Spring. Take Exit 39 toward Potomac and turn left onto Bradley Boulevard. Continue on Oaklyn Drive and follow signs for parking.

Tickets --Daily starting at $40, weeklong starting at $150

Information -- or 301-469-3737


First round

First hole

7 a.m. -- Frank Lickliter II, Cameron Beckman, Joe Ogilvie 7:10 a.m. -- John Huston, Len Mattiace, Omar Uresti 7:20 a.m. -- Shigeki Maruyama, Willie Wood, D.J. Trahan 7:30 a.m. -- Heath Slocum, Wes Short, Jr., Rich Beem 7:40 a.m. -- Chris Couch, Olin Browne, Ben Crane 7:50 a.m. -- Fred Funk, Ben Curtis, Phil Tataurangi 8 a.m. -- Tommy Armour III, Chris Smith, Daniel Chopra 8:10 a.m. -- Matt Gogel, Brian Henninger, Kent Jones 8:20 a.m. -- Greg Kraft, Mathew Goggin, Henrik Bjornstad 8:30 a.m. -- Joe Durant, Paul Stankowski, Nick Watney 8:40 a.m. -- Jason Schultz, B.J. Staten, Nicholas Thompson 8:50 a.m. -- Kris Cox, Matt Hansen, David McKenzie 9 a.m. -- Danny Ellis, Jon Mills, Alex Aragon Noon -- Jose Coceres, Jerry Smith, Bill Haas 12:10 p.m. -- Blaine McCallister, Jay Delsing, Marco Dawson 12:20 p.m. -- Alex Cejka, Charles Warren, Charley Hoffman 12:30 p.m. -- K.J. Choi, Joey Sindelar, Steve Elkington 12:40 p.m. -- J.B. Holmes, Bart Bryant, Ted Purdy 12:50 p.m. -- Dudley Hart, David Peoples, Skip Kendall 1 p.m. -- J.P. Hayes, Corey Pavin, Arjun Atwal 1:10 p.m. -- Neal Lancaster, Craig Barlow, Nick O'Hern 1:20 p.m. -- Robert Allenby, Grant Waite, Troy Matteson 1:30 p.m. -- J.L. Lewis, Fredrik Jacobson, Mike Sposa 1:40 p.m. -- Jeff Gove, Daisuke Maruyama, Tim Ruddo 1:50 p.m. -- Darron Stiles, David Branshaw, Jody Rokisky 2 p.m. -- Jeff Overton, James H. McLean, Justin Peters

10th hole

7 a.m. -- Bernhard Langer, Hidemichi Tanaka, Patrick Sheehan 7:10 a.m. -- Steve Stricker, John Riegger, Ryan Moore 7:20 a.m. -- Lee Janzen, Briny Baird, Brett Quigley 7:30 a.m. -- Kirk Triplett, Padraig Harrington, Mark Brooks 7:40 a.m. -- Kenny Perry, Brent Geiberger, Jonathan Kaye 7:50 a.m. -- Steve Flesch, Craig Parry, Ian Leggatt 8:00 a.m. -- Scott McCarron, Lee Westwood, Brian Bateman 8:10 a.m. -- Robert Damron, Andrew Magee, Ryuji Imada 8:20 a.m. -- Charles Howell III, Doug Barron, Scott Gump 8:30 a.m. -- Jerry Kelly, Duffy Waldorf, Mathias Gronberg 8:40 a.m. -- Ron Whittaker, Bubba Dickerson, Brandon Knaub 8:50 a.m. -- Thomas Levet, Will MacKenzie, Spencer Levin 9:00 a.m. -- Hunter Mahan, Roger Tambellini, Cary Sciorra Noon -- Dan Forsman, Paul Azinger, Jim McGovern 12:10 p.m. -- Billy Andrade, G.Hjertstedt, Richard S. Johnson 12:20 p.m. -- Chris Riley, John Senden, Bob May 12:30 p.m. -- Jason Gore, Brad Faxon, Jonathan Byrd 12:40 p.m. -- Brett Wetterich, Ryan Palmer, Carlos Franco 12:50 p.m. -- Kevin Sutherland, Brian Gay, Michael Allen 1 p.m. -- Tom Kite, Stephen Leaney, Todd Fischer 1:10 p.m. -- Bill Glasson, Donnie Hammond, Greg Chalmers 1:20 p.m. -- Glen Day, Brian Davis, James Driscoll 1:30 p.m. -- Mark Wilson, S.Gutschewski, Boyd Summerhays 1:40 p.m. -- Tjaart van der Walt, Billy Hurley III, Vance Veazey 1:50 p.m. -- Robert Garrigus, Michael Connell, B.Delahoussaye 2 p.m. -- Eric Axley, John Engler Jr., Matthew Every

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