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Hoch on form on return to favourite course

Scott Hoch is hard-pressed to find a flaw in his game right now.

OK, his iron shots aren't as dependable as his drives or as precise as his putts. But that didn't keep Hoch from winning the Western Open by a stroke over Davis Love III last week in the greatest performance of his career.

It was his ninth straight finish in the top 16 and made Hoch the first player to win at least two PGA Tour events as a 45-year-old since Hale Irwin, won the U.S. Open and Buick Classic in consecutive weeks in 1990.

''Two things have been very consistent during that stretch. I've been driving it well and putting it really well,'' Hoch said today. ''One thing I haven't been doing very well is hitting my irons, so it's kind of a reversal of normal. Even last week, that's the one thing I didn't do nearly as well as I'd like to.''

Everything else is fine for Hoch.

''This has been extraordinary for me to be this consistent for this long,'' he said.

Even his timing is impeccable.

This week he's playing at one of his favorite courses, Brown Deer Park, where he is a two-time winner of the Greater Milwaukee Open.

The rough is very thick and deep, perfect for a straight hitter like Hoch.

''If I hit the driver like last week, it should be a really good week for me,'' he said. ''For variety, I think it's good. This is not something that needs to be like this every week. But I think we play too many courses where they cut the rough too low, scores are too low.

''This is thick. You might get lucky and have some lies out of it. But for the most part, if you're going to miss some tee balls, eventually you're going to pay for it.''

Jerry Kelly said the rough is of U.S. Open quality. And that, along with wind and dry weather, will make it impossible for anyone to match Loren Roberts' GMO record-setting 24-under-par 260 last year, he said.

''If you don't get the ball on the fairway, then you are going to be lucky to find your ball on the green,'' Kelly said. ''You know how these fairways twist and turn and have run-outs that aren't very nice. Guys are going to have to lay it up a lot shorter and straighter than they ever have. It's going to be a tough course.

''I'm sure they're not going to water it. They're going to cut it down, it's going to speed up, it's going to firm up. The fairways are going to get faster,'' Kelly added. ''That's going to make it even harder to keep it in the fairway. It's going to be a pretty god test. You're not going to see 24 under this year. I will stake my career on it.''

Kelly is one of several Wisconsinites in the field and he spoke out earlier about hearing rumblings that the GMO, with its $3.1 million purse, might not survive past 2002, when the current TV contract expires.

On Wednesday, he said the PGA Tour assured him that Milwaukee won't be dumped from the schedule when talks begin on a four-year contract later this summer.

''I heard and saw writing on the wall and these guys stopped me from thinking that way,'' Kelly said. ''They said a few things that made me think we're fine for this next round of negotiations. I hope that's true.''

Wayne White, the PGA's director of tournament business affairs, said the tour would have to listen if a city dangled say, a $5 million purse for Milwaukee's dates, but no such offers are out there.

''We're very pleased with what's happening here and see no reason whatsoever to have any concerns,'' White said. ''And Jerry shouldn't either.''

Divots: Skip Kendall was called off the course during the pro-am on Wednesday and informed of the death of his father. Kendall planned to remain in the tournament. According to Kendall's mother, Shirley, her 77-year-old husband Ralph died of complications of a stroke. He was living in Sun City West, Ariz.


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