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Buick takes over Hartford tournament

The Buick Championship, the tournament that almost wasn't, starts on Thursday with a new name, a bigger purse and a wide open field.

Formerly the Greater Hartford Open, it was in danger of extinction after 52 years until the car company rescued it last year. While tournament officials scrambled to keep the popular event going, the players weren't worried.

``The players take it for granted that it was just going to continue because we know what a great tournament it is,'' golfer Kirk Triplett said on Wednesday. ``The one thing this tournament has going for it and has always had going for it is tremendous support for the community.''

Triplett is making his 14th appearance here and has had four top 10 finishes.

Ryder Cup member Fred Funk, also among those chasing the $756,000 first-place cheque, hopes to work on his game at the TPC at River Highlands. He's had four top-10 finishes this season including a second at Milwaukee, but acknowledges he's lost some focus during his swing. Funk has missed the cut nine times in 22 events.

``I really haven't played very consistent this year at all,'' he said. ``You need something to focus on during your golf swing, whether it's a takeaway thought, a transition thought, or a follow-through thought. I was trying to create the golf swing instead of letting it happen.''

Jerry Kelly, by contrast, has been a model of consistency. Kelly has missed just one cut in 22 tournaments. His best finish was fifth, in three different tournaments.

``I think it's a testament to the all-around game because I really struck it poorly at a lot of events,'' Kelly said.

Kelly played college golf at the nearby University of Hartford. Despite being in familiar territory, Kelly has made the cut here just once in four appearances. This year, he's joined by fellow Hartford teammates Patrick Sheehan and Tim Petrovic. The three helped out at a golf clinic on Tuesday night at their alma mater.

``It's great having the guys,'' Kelly said. ``It's quite an accomplishment to have three guys from one team coming back and playing in your college city. I think it's pretty cool.''

The tournament will remain a Buick event through 2006 and offers $4.2 million in prize money, an increase of $200,000 over last year.

But timing is everything and sandwiched between the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup, many of the biggest names on Tour have taken a pass, including two-time champ Phil Mickelson. Tiger Woods, a staple in the Buick stable, has never played Hartford and didn't break the streak this year.

Defending champion Peter Jacobsen has a commitment to play in the final Champions Tour major this week in his hometown of Portland, Oregon.

Triplett was part of the field for 13 straight years before missing the event last year. In his absence, Jacobsen captured his second GHO title, 19 years after his first.

``I missed not being here last year,'' Triplett said. ``I saw Peter Jacobsen win and said `if he can win, I can sure win.'''

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