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Brett Wetterich enjoying title defence

Brett Wetterich could hardly keep the smile off his face on Tuesday as he prepared for his title defence at this week's Byron Nelson Championship.

The big-hitting American, who triumphed last year by a shot over South African Trevor Immelman, has never before reaped the benefits of being a defending champion on the PGA Tour.

"Coming out here this morning was nice," Wetterich told reporters at the hosting TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas.

"I got the front row, the prime-time parking spot. I mean, you can't get a better spot. That was pretty neat.

"And then just being able to walk into the champions' locker room and see my name sitting there. That was a pretty special feeling."

The 33-year-old Ohio native, ranked 208th in the world when he claimed his only PGA Tour title, believes he has developed into a much improved player.

"Since winning here, I've been playing pretty steady for a year, and hopefully it keeps carrying over for me," said Wetterich, who made his Ryder Cup debut for the U.S. last September.

"Knowing that I belong I think is the biggest thing and learning more of how to play out here is important, too.

"It feels weird (being defending champion) because it's the first time that it's ever happened for me. But, by the same token, I think I've had three second places since winning here last year so I know I'm good enough to be able to win again.

"I'll definitely be a lot more comfortable this year than I was last year."

Wetterich, who chased world number one Tiger Woods hard in the final round of last month's WGC-CA Championship at Doral before finishing two strokes behind in second place, faces a strong field this week.

Former winners Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh return to action for the first time since the Masters and are among eight members of the world's top 20 taking part.

World number four Mickelson, champion in 1996, makes his first tournament appearance since announcing on Monday he was switching allegiance to swing coach Butch Harmon.

Seventh-ranked Singh, who clinched the 2003 title, is a double winner on the PGA Tour this season and heads the inaugural FedExCup standings with 12,361 points.

Also playing this week are British world number 11 Luke Donald, 2004 champion Sergio Garcia of Spain (14), American Charles Howell III (16) and the Australian trio Nick O'Hern (17), Stuart Appleby (18) and Robert Allenby (19).

The tournament is played over the Cottonwood Valley Course and the TPC at Las Colinas over the first two days before the TPC layout hosts the last two rounds.

According to Wetterich, tackling two different venues for the opening two rounds is no problem for the players.

"It doesn't really bother us, to be honest," he said. "From day-to-day, they're going to change, whether it's windy on one course as opposed to the next day.

"But you've still got to play and the pins are in the same spots. If you play good, you play good. And if you don't, you don't. You can't blame it on anybody else."

One of the most popular stops on the PGA Tour, the event is being held for the first time since the death last September of its namesake, golfing great Byron Nelson.

Widely considered the straightest hitter of the ball in history, five-times major winner Nelson died of natural causes at his ranch in Roanoke, Texas at the age of 94.


April 25, 2007

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