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Sutton hoping for return to form in Houston

What can Craig Perks do for an encore? The answer will come this week at the $4 million Houston Open.

Perks hit three remarkable shots on the final three holes of The Players Championship on Sunday and claimed an improbable victory at one of the world's most elite tournaments.

Four days later, Perks will try to sustain the momentum at an event with less prestige. In fact, the PGA even decided to move up this event to Easter weekend.

Since the Masters always is scheduled for the first full week in April, another tournament was needed to fill an earlier date in the season.

The Houston Open allows another week of preparation for the Masters. The BellSouth Classic will take place next week in Duluth, Georgia, with the first major of the season scheduled for the following week.

With Tiger Woods taking the week off, more of the spotlight could shine on Perks, and also-ran from New Zealand. Last week, he chipped in for eagle at the 16th hole, sank a birdie putt at the famed 17th and holed another chip at the 18th for par and his first PGA Tour title.

Despite being ranked outside the top 200, the 35-year-old Perk earned the $1.08 million first prize and a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, including the next three Masters and each of this year's majors.

Perks faces a field this week that includes British Open champion David Duval, PGA champion David Toms and Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal.

The defending champion is Hal Sutton, who hopes to use this week to revive his declining fortunes. The 43-year-old has missed the cut in six of nine starts this year after claiming his only 2001 title here.

Sutton shot a 68 in the final round for his 14th PGA victory.

The Houston Open also can provide a tuneup for former Masters champion Vijay Singh of Fiji, who missed the cut at the Players Championship.

A fan favorite at this event is Texas native Justin Leonard, a former British Open champion who finished fourth last year.

The TPC at Woodlands has hosted the event every year since 1975. This will be the final year for the par-72, 7,018-yard course before a move next season to the Redstone Golf Club, a Peter Jacobsen-Jim Hardy design that is scheduled to open in the fall.


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