Federal Express St Jude Classic
Federal Express St Jude Classic
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Price & Norman head field at St. Jude Classic

Defending champion Nick Price and 1997 winner Greg Norman, both playing limited schedules this year, head the field at the St. Jude Classic, the final tuneup to the U.S. Open.

Tiger Woods, David Duval, Vijay Singh and other top players are skipping the event, which begins Thursday, to prepare for the Open, but the St. Jude field still is intriguing.

Davis Love III, who failed to make the cut last year, is back, along with Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, 19-year-old Spanish sensation Sergio Garcia and John Daly, who lives in Memphis.

Norman has played only six events this year and is coming off a 69th-place finish at last week's Memorial Tournament won by Woods.

Norman said he felt "a little rusty" last week, but refused to use that as an 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 lightening-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.

Tom Lehman, the 1996 British Open champion, 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, too.

"(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, Price is picking his spots now and aiming for major championships. He has four top-10 finishes in nine PGA Tour events 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."

Norman first played the TPC at Southwind course in 1997, when Price suggested it might be to his liking. It was. Norman birdied the final three holes to beat Dudley Hart by a stroke.

Norman was recovering from shoulder surgery and did not defend his title last year, but he wanted in this year because the course suits his game and he likes the hot, humid conditions.

He also said, "Winning is probably the best recipe for wanting to come back."

The 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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