Pine Mountain (Georgia): With just two ranking events left on the 2002 US PGA Tour, players looking to win their cards for next season are under increasing pressure to perform at the Buick Challenge starting Thursday.
Defending champion Chris DiMarco, who beat David Duval at the first extra hole in a playoff last year, will start amongst the favourites.
DiMarco is enjoying his most successful season since joining the Tour in 1994 and came close to winning his second title of 2002 when he finished runner up at the Disney Classic last week.
DiMarco won the Phoenix Open in January and has a further five top-10 finishes to his name.
Duval will also be in action. The 2001 British Open champion has struggled with his driver this year but has recently shown signs of a return to form.
After a reasonable Ryder Cup — where he won 1-1/2 out of three points — Duval tied for 25th at the Michelob Championship and joint sixth two weeks ago at the Invensys Classic. However, he is still a lowly 76th on the money list and not even a victory would be good enough to win him a start at the Tour Championship.
American Steve Lowery is also likely to feature. The 42-year-old from Alabama has not missed a cut since June, notching up second-place finishes at the Greater Milwaukee Open, the International and the Air Canada Championship. Furthermore, Lowery clearly likes the Callaway Gardens layout, having set a course record 60 during the final round in 1997.
Another player likely to stand out is former champion Fred Funk, who returns to PGA Tour action after a fleeting appearance at the World Match Play Championship in England.
Although Funk lost 3 & 2 to Scot Colin Montgomerie in the first round last week, his recent form has been impressive. In his last nine events he has amassed four second places and a fourth. Furthermore, he won the Buick Challenge in 1995 and has finished runner-up twice.
Likely to be leading the overseas challenge is South Korea’s Choi Kyung-ju — a twice winner in 2002 and joint-fifth last week — and Fiji’s Vijai Singh.
Former powerlifter Choi has already broken the $2 million mark in earnings this season and will be looking to build on his impressive 19th place on the rankings in what is only his third year on the US PGA Tour.
Singh, meanwhile, will be hoping to make amends for his semi-final loss to South Africa’s Ernie Els in the World Match Play. The twice major winner struggled with his shoulder last week but if the injury clears up he will be in with a chance of adding to his nine Tour victories. (Reuters)