Federal Express St Jude Classic
Federal Express St Jude Classic
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Event Features
Olazabal in top form heading into US Open
Rain pushes finish back to Monday
Garcia pulls out & signs new deal
Price & Norman head field
19-year-old Sergio Garcia looks to capture first PGA Tour event

Tiger Woods aside, it's difficult to imagine a more accomplished -- or more traveled -- 19-year-old golfer than Sergio Garcia.

The Spaniard has played tournaments in 20 countries, including such golfing outposts as Qatar, Chile and Slovenia. He won the European Amateur as a 15-year-old, captured the British Amateur last year and this year was the first European to be low amateur at the Masters. In his U.S. pro debut, he finished third at last month's Byron Nelson Classic.

Now, after an 11th-place finish at last week's Memorial Tournament, Garcia has his sights on the St. Jude Classic, which starts today.

The hot, humid weather suits Garcia, as does the player-friendly course.

"I feel comfortable," Garcia said after finishing a late-afternoon pro-amateur round.

It hasn't taken Garcia long to get used to the questions and comparisons to Woods, who he calls a good friend. They talked a bit at the Memorial, which Woods won.

"He just told me I was handling (the attention) OK," Garcia said. ``Then we made some jokes."

While he exudes maturity, Garcia remains boyish about golf. He plays because he enjoys it, he said.

"I love to play golf. I have a lot of fun playing golf," he said.

Garcia's chances of winning St. Jude are improved by the absence of Woods, David Duval, Vijay Singh and several other top players. They are skipping the event to prepare for next week's U.S. Open.

But defending champion Nick Price and 1997 winner Greg Norman are here, joined by Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, Davis Love III, Tom Lehman and local favorite John Daly.

Norman, who was recovering from shoulder surgery and did not defend his St. Jude title last year, has played only six events this year. He is coming off a 69th-place finish at the Memorial.

Norman felt "a little rusty" last week, but said that was no excuse for his poor putting.

"I'm normally a fairly consistently good putter, even coming off a break," he said. "I was shocked by the way I putted. I can't remember a week where I performed that poorly with the flat stick."

Norman knows he must putt much better this week if he is to be ready for the lightning-fast greens at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club in North Carolina, site of the U.S. Open.

By contrast, the Tournament Players Club at Southwind features softer greens that allow players to "take dead aim" at the pin, Norman said.

Lehman called the greens "perfect."

"If you are hitting it anywhere near the hole, you're probably going to make a lot of putts," he said.

The par-71, 7,030-yard course features rolling terrain with 96 bunkers and 10 water hazards.

Last year, Price shot 16 under and won a one-hole playoff with Jeff Sluman. He was spectacular at the 528-yard 16th, eagling it three times and making birdie once.

Price expects 15- to 20-under will win the tournament this year.

"(The course) is in the best shape I've seen it in," said Price, who has two victories and six top-10 finishes in 12 St. Jude appearances.

Like Norman, the 42-year-old Price has cut back on the number of PGA Tour events he plays. He has four top-10 finishes in nine tournaments this year.

"I'm having such a great time," he said. ``I'm on the back nine of my career now, but I don't know what hole I'm on."

St. Jude's purse of $2.5 million is $700,000 larger than last year. The winner's share is $450,000.

The tournament is sponsored by FedEx.

 

AP


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