The Jack Nicklaus designed 7,619 yard Castle Pines Golf Club near Denver is the setting for the unique International tournament on the USPGA Tour over the next four days. Most of the world’s top players will be in attendance for the event, which will be used as a warm-up for the final Major championship of the season, the USPGA Championship, which begins next week in Illinois.
The International is one of the most talked about and popular events of the season, due to its international field, the top class venue and its unconventional scoring system. The modified version of stableford scoring, which rewards eagles and birdies considerably, is a welcome break from the usual strokeplay circuit for most of the top professionals. Points are also taken away for bogeys and double bogeys, giving players and spectators alike an almost unique spectacle.
Defending champion Retief Goosen willl lead the international challenge, and will be joined by his fellow South African Ernie Els. Both men will be eager to produce some good form to take into next week’s final Major at Medinah. Up and coming star Charl Schwartzel completes a trio of South Africans, while two time Masters Champion Berhard Langer of Germany is also in the field alongside the popular Australian veteran Greg Norman.
With neither Tiger Woods nor Jim Furyk competing this week, the home challenge will be led by Masters Champion Phil Mickelson. Other Americans in the spotlight will be those competing for Ryder Cup qualification on what is the penultimate weekend for scoring points. US captain Tom Lehman will be a very interested observer when his own rounds finish, and will be eagerly doing his calculations to see who is moving into those automatic top ten spots on the ranking list. Spanish duo Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal will also be after ranking points to further cement their places in European Team Captain Ian Woosnam’s top ten.
RYDER CUP WATCH
A host of Americans lying on the fringe of Tom Lehman’s Ryder Cup team are lining up at Castle Pines, and with just one more qualifying tournament left after this one the stakes couldn’t be any higher. Any player from 6th in the list down is not safe yet, and the man in that position is Open runner-up Chris DiMarco. DiMarco could have sealed his place in the team with a good showing at last week’s Buick Open in Michigan, but he failed to do so after missing the cut. He will be looking nervously over his shoulder at the numerous players lining up at the International, all of whom will be looking to usurp him.
Of those queuing up behind DiMarco, the closest rivals are JJ Henry (8th), Zach Johnson (9th), John Rollins (11th), Lucas Glover (13th), Davis Love III (14th), Fred Couples (15th), Tom Pernice Jr (17th), Aaron Oberholser (19th) and Stewart Cink (20th). Lehman will be hoping that the experienced Couples and Love can secure automatic places, as he has been widely tipped to use his wildcard picks on them if they do not. Automatic qualification for them will ensure that the captain has more flexibility. Love may well be one to watch this week – he has excellent previous form on the Castle Pines course and is a two time winner of the event, in 1990 and 2003.
With bumper points on offer at the USPGA Championship next week due to its status as a Major championship, it is not the final chance for the Americans to secure their places – due to the points available next week, the man who wins at Medinah will probably make the team on the back of just one victory regardless of his current position on the ranking list. However, it will take a brave man to leave his qualification so late and thus the eyes of the golfing world will be on Castle Pines this weekend.
Of the Europeans playing in the event this weekend the Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal are the only two with a realistic chance of making Ian Woosnam’s team. Both men are already in good positions to secure their places at the Ryder Cup and, with most of the other US-based Europeans opting to skip the tournament, they will be hopeful of a good show to consolidate their status.