Tiger expected to burn bright at Buick Invitational


By Robert Lane

The Century Club and Buick held a press conference on Monday, Dec. 10 to kick off the 2008 Buick Invitational golf tournament. The Century Club is the local non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to perpetuate a PGA Tour event in San Diego and raise money for local charities. This year’s event is particularly notable because the Torrey Pines course will also host the US Open.

Among those to address the media were Tom Wilson, the tournament director, Larry Peck of Buick and last year’s champion, Tiger Woods.

“We are very excited about the 2008 tournament, the precursor to the US Open and the resulting strong field of players,” said Peck. Buick is the largest sponsor in golf and the first company to ever sponsor a golf event. Buick is in its 17th year of a 20-year agreement to sponsor the San Diego PGA event.

The storyline on everyone’s mind this year has to be the US Open (June 12 – 15). Players who intend to compete in the Open will want to get some valuable on-course experience here, thus the field should be rich with talent.

In preparation for the Open, the course setup has been modified from last year. Trees are down, traps, fairways and greens have been moved and, maybe most importantly, the grass has been changed on the south course to kikuya.

In compliance with the US Golf Association, this grass was installed in all the fairways and rough areas of the South Course. “The best way to describe it is gnarly,” said Tom Wilson. “Tightly knit, it provides a very nice playing surface, but when it gets growing, it can be very punitive to the golfers.”

The Buick won’t play as hard as the Open, but expect slightly higher scores this year due to these changes. The south course has traditionally been one of the hardest on the tour.

Among regular PGA Tour events in 2006, the South had five holes that ranked in the top 50 hardest holes, with the 506-yard, par-4 12th hole the highest at No. 9.

In a year when Woods has taken more time off from the game than any other year in his professional career, he still has to be the hands-down favorite to win the 2008 Buick Invitational. Woods has won five of the 10 times he’s played in the event, including the last three years.

“Torrey pines has been very good to me,” Woods said via satellite. “I’ve always loved playing there. I’ve played there since my junior golf days. When I was young it was a great experience for me. Dad and I drove down and played because I wanted to play a course that the tour players played.”

Torrey Pines is one of only a handful of municipal course to be selected for the US Open, let alone be a permanent fixture on the tour. Its majestic ocean views, course design and reputation make it one of our city’s most prized possessions.

Players who plan to be here for the Open will be making mental notes of the course as they play, but there will be some key differences in the layout. “The conditions are different in June, the place gets dry and fast, it will be totally different,” said Woods. “I’m sure the USGA also won’t have the rough as high for the Invitational.”

The Buick is played on both the north and south courses on Thursday and Friday and only the south on Saturday and Sunday. The Open will be played exclusively on the south. Most likely the course will be lengthened and the par reduced by at least 1 stroke.

This year’s Buick Invitational will be held the week of Jan. 21 – 27. A field of approximately 156 players will compete Thursday and Friday and will be cut on the weekend to the top 70 players and ties. Those who make the cut will compete for a prize purse of $5.2 million, with $936,000 going to the champion.

Since Buick became involved with the Invitational in 1992, more than $12 million has been raised for San Diego charities. Last year alone, $2.3 million was given out and the goal this year is $3 million.

The tournament once again finds itself well positioned between the week of the NFL’s conference championship games and the week of the Super Bowl. With no NFL games on that week, the tournament has enjoyed the highest ratings of any non-major golf tournament. Television coverage will be on the Golf Channel Thursday and Friday and on CBS Saturday and Sunday.

Tickets can be purchased at select San Diego County golf courses and the golf shop at Torrey Pines. They are also available by phone at the tournament box office, (619) 281-4653 or at Advance ticket prices are $15 for Tuesday, $20 for Wednesday and Thursday and $25 for Friday through Sunday.