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PGA TOUR International yearns to find its niche



Published: Thu, August 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The event is currently held one week before the PGA Championship.

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (AP) -- Some think it's goofy golf. Others find it to be a refreshing change.

Twenty years since it started, the International -- one of the golf's most unique events -- is still going strong but also still looking to find a more fitting niche within the PGA Tour.

This is the tournament played at altitude -- about 6,000 feet -- an elevation at which the ball flies about 10 percent farther.

Unusual scoring

But the real uniqueness of the International is the use of the modified Stableford scoring system, one that awards five points for eagles, two for birdies, nothing for pars and deducts one for bogeys.

It places a premium on aggressiveness and turns a couple of the par-5s, especially the uphill, 492-yard 17th hole, into must-see events that can swing the tournament.

"The aggressive people get rewarded here. Those that don't, pay a price," said Greg Norman, who won the tournament in 1989. "I like it here. I like the system."

Last year, Rod Pampling made eagle on 17 to capture the tournament, his first win on the PGA Tour. Three years ago, it was 1994 champion Steve Lowery who knocked his second shot in on 17 for a double-eagle, worth eight points that vaulted him from the middle of the pack to second place with one hole remaining. He lost by one point to Rich Beem.

The International has produced its share of unsuspecting champions -- Pampling, Lowery, Beem the week before his big win at the PGA Championship. But it has also put some big-time names in the winner's circle. Phil Mickelson won in 1993 and 1997, Davis Love III in 1990 and 2003, Vijay Singh in 1998 and Ernie Els in 2000.

"I look forward to it," Mickelson said. "It's no screwy tournament. I look forward to playing it. I like the need for aggressive play."

As much as the scoring system, it has been the ability to attract big names -- or lack thereof -- that has been the longtime conundrum for this tournament.

Timing

In the early days, the International was played the week after the PGA Championship, something of a letdown week for players, who have just completed the year's last major. At the request of tournament officials, the event was moved to one week before the PGA Championship in 2000.

Ideas have been floated about moving the tournament to June, or trying to turn it into a World Golf Championship event when the new TV contract goes into effect in 2007.

One good thing about the timing is that the International and PGA Championship are the final two tournaments in which players can gather points to make the President's Cup team (in odd years) or Ryder Cup team (in even years).

It puts some pressure on Love, who is ranked ninth coming into this week. The top 10 get automatic spots on the team.




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