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New date boosts St Jude Championship

More cash and a date the week before the U.S. Open have done more for the Stanford St. Jude Championship than an easy golf course and lots of history ever could.

Six of the top 12 players in the world are in Memphis, led by fourth-ranked Adam Scott and No. 6 Vijay Singh, to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the tournament, an event that had been lucky recently if one of the top 20 showed up.

This is the first visit for Scott, along with Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington.

The field would have been even stronger if Phil Mickelson, who missed the cut in his only other visit in 2001, hadn't withdrawn to heal a sore wrist for the Open.

New sponsor Stanford Financial Group committed to upgrading the event by boosting the purse by $800,000 to $6 million, with $1.08 million to the winner. Stanford replaced FedEx Corp., which now sponsors the tour's new season-long points competition and playoff.

David Toms, who won here in 2003 and 2004 and will try to make his 12th straight cut at the TPC Southwind, said Wednesday he's glad some top players decided to play in Memphis this year.

"I know the players are excited about it and look forward to having a good week. I think that was their goal, just to upgrade what has always been here, a tournament that has been around for a long time and put their stamp on it," Toms said.

"I think they've done a good job."

Attracting top talent didn't used to be a problem for a tournament that started in 1958 and is outranked in terms of service by only a handful of tournaments and the majors.

Entertainer Danny Thomas was a big draw when he lent his name to help raise money for his St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. President Gerald Ford had a hole-in-one at the event then played at Cordova in 1977 as a prelude to Al Geiberger making tour history days later with his 59.

But the tournament, which moved to the TPC Southwind in 1989, struggled with a reputation as birdie heaven.

John Cook won at 26 under in 1996 and Toms went 20 under in 2003. The schedule didn't help either as the event bounced around between the sweltering months of June and August, making it an easy decision to skip Memphis.

The forecast isn't much better now, with temperatures in the low 90s expected through Sunday.

But TPC Southwind is a different course after a redesign that followed Toms' victory in 2004 at 16 under. Par was trimmed to 70 from 71 by changing the par-5 fifth to a 485-yard par 4 as part of adding more than 200 yards to stretch it out to 7,244. The greens also were switched from bent to Bermuda grass

"I might get a little impatient on the golf course knowing that I used to birdie this hole all the time," Toms said.

Jeff Maggert ended a personal seven-year victory drought by winning here last year at 9 under, and the course ranked only behind Winged Foot -- site of the 2006 U.S. Open -- as the toughest on tour last year.

Maggert said that tougher reputation and not the timely spot in the schedule attracted the stronger field.

"You're always going to get some good players coming a week before a major tournament because they like to prepare. But certainly when you have a golf course that's difficult and tests your game, I think you draw a lot more players," Maggert said.

Maggert will try to become the only golfer not named Tiger Woods to defend his title successfully this year. Maggert said he now is fully recovered from a broken rib and tied for 12th at Colonial two weeks ago.

"It took a while to get my competitiveness back, and I feel good now. There are no excuses now," he said.

That is why Geoff Ogilvy, who heads to Oakmont as the defending U.S. Open champ, came to Memphis for only his fourth visit. He is hoping to prepare under tournament pressure conditions despite not making the cut here between 2002 and 2004.

"You can't replicate playing with nerves and under pressure at home on the range, and out here you can. Nothing is going to replicate next week. It's an incredible place, it's very different and very hard," Ogilvy said.

June 7, 2007


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