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Vaughn Taylor hoping for Reno repeat

Vaughn Taylor isn't a household name, but the defending champion of the Reno-Tahoe Open was a star at the local Boys and Girls Club this week when he stopped in for a pep talk between practice rounds.

"It really feels weird standing up here," Taylor, 29, told about 100 children in a gymnasium with a big paper poster that read "Welcome Vaughn Taler."

"I never thought I'd be up here telling you my story," he said. "But if you put a lot of hard work and effort into what you are doing, it will definitely pay off in the end."

Taylor birdied the last hole of regulation and then dropped an 11-foot birdie putt to win a playoff at Reno last year to capture his first PGA Tour victory. He said it was a dream come true that started when he was 9 years old growing up in Augusta, Ga., and became more serious when he turned 13 and gave up baseball to concentrate on golf.

"I practiced my tail off. I rode my bicycle back and forth to the golf course. And the hard work really did pay off. Maybe someday one of you will be up here," he told the kids.

Taylor enters the $3 million tourney that tees off Thursday at Montreux Golf & Country Club on the edge of the Sierra Nevada in 86th place on the money list with $664,228. He finished tied for 28th at last weekend's PGA Championship.

"Every day, I played a little better," he said after closing with a 69 at Baltusrol.

His best finish this season has been a tie for fifth at the Wachovia Championship in May thanks to a final round 5-under-par 67.

Jesper Parnevik, Jerry Kelly, Jonathan Kaye, Tim Herron, Mark O'Meara, David Duvall, Ben Curtis, Scott McCarron and Justin Rose are among others in the field, along with 1999 Reno-Tahoe champ Notah Begay III and 2001 winner John Cook.

Taylor is the first champion to return to try to defend his title in the event's seven years. That's mainly because the Reno-Tahoe Open runs opposite the WGC-NEC Invitational in Ohio, where the top 50 golfers in the world golf rankings (along with some other qualifiers) are playing this week. Previous Reno winners have moved into the top 50 the next year.

Steve Elkington had planned to play in Reno but withdrew after his second-place finish at the PGA Championship vaulted him into the top 50.

Joe Ogilvie is the leading money winner in the Reno-Tahoe field at 23rd with nearly $1.7 million. Herron and Kaye are in the top 50 and McCarron, who lives in Reno and lost in the playoff last year, is 55th.

When Taylor arrived as a rookie in Reno a year ago, he said he had been struggling with his game and had low expectations.

"It's funny how things click. I wasn't playing that well. I was feeling a little pressure to try to keep my tour card. I was just hoping to finish in the top 125 [on the money list] so winning was a real bonus," he said.

The victory ensured a high enough spot and the two-year exemption that comes with it to play on tour without having to qualify for each event.

"It means I've got a job for a couple of years. It just makes it a little easier," he said. It also meant a new car for Taylor, a BMW 745, and a new home he's having built outside Augusta for his parents.

Taylor said he didn't think about the possibility of winning the tournament last year until late in Saturday's third round.

"I got off to a great start and was 5-under through eight, which got me to about 18-under. I was really rolling and it kind of got to me a little bit.

"On the par-5 ninth, I was hitting a 6 iron into the green and I think I finally realized, 'Holy cow, 'I've got 6 iron to the par 5 and I'm 18-under,"' he said.

Just as quickly, the thought passed as he failed to make birdie, settled for a par "and didn't end up playing well on the back nine," he said. Taylor shot 2-over the final nine holes that day before hanging on to win Sunday.

"It was mental. I definitely learned from that."

 

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