1998 Buick Invitational - Preview
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Photo by Bill Knight

This is the 46th year of this PGA TOUR tournament, which was first held as the San Diego Open in 1952. This is also the seventh year of Buick as the major sponsor. The Century Club of San Diego has been the local non-profit organizing body for the past 36 years. OMeara - Defending Champion

One of the pre-tournament features this year was the induction of Gene Littler into the "Century Club Walk of Fame". Littler joins Andy Williams, Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper in this prestigious "walk". A plate with his name was placed near the main entrance at Torrey Pines in a brief ceremony held last month (scheduling conflicts prevented him from coming this week to San Diego). Gene Littler was the first amateur player to win a professional tournament, the 1954 San Diego Open (won by four shots). During his career in the regular TOUR, Littler won 29 times, and has won 8 Senior PGA TOUR Events. He also won the 1953 U.S. Amateur and the 1961 U.S. Open. Littler is an inductee of the World Golf Hall of Fame (1990) and the PGA Hall of Fame (1982). Gene "The Machine" Littler was selected to play in seven U.S. Ryder Cup teams. But his most remarkable triumph, he recalls, was winning his battle against cancer and returning to play professional golf in 1972, then winning the St. Louis Children Hospital Classic.

The field this is season one of the strongest ever. It includes twelve former champions of this event (Steve Pate won it twice, in 1988 and 1992), as well as 23 winners of majors (John Daly, Sandy Lyle, Payne Stewart and Fuzzy Zoeller won two majors each). Three of last year's major champions, Tiger Woods (Masters), Justin Leonard (British) and Davis Love III (PGA) will be here this week. Davis Love III is also a former champion at Torrey Pines (1996). Overall, winners of six U.S. Opens, eight PGA Championships, five Masters, and four British Opens are in the field. Nine of the top-15 in the official PGA TOUR 1997 money list, including #13-ranked, and defending champion, Mark O'Meara, will play at Torrey Pines this year. Also in the field are seven of this year's PGA TOUR top-10 money leaders (through Phoenix), as well as winners of all 1998 season events so far (through Phoenix): Phil Mickelson (Mercedes Championships), Fred Couples (Bob Hope Chrysler Classic), and Jesper Parnevik (Phoenix Open).

The PGA TOUR "new breed" is represented by fourteen of the top-15 1997 Nike Tour graduates, among them #1-ranked Chris Smith, and the top finishers of the 1997 PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament, including medalist Scott Verplank.

The 1998 Buick Invitational has a record purse of $2.1 million in prize money, up by $600,000 from last year. The winner will take home $378,000. And if this is not enough incentive, the 1998 money leader at the end of the 8-tournament West Coast Swing will earn an additional $100,000 as a bonus for being Bank of America's "King of the Swing".

The tournament will be played, as usual, on both the South and North courses at the Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Courses, in La Jolla, California. The South course record, 63, is held by Tommy Nakajima (1984) and Tom Watson (1992). The North course record, 61, is held by Mark Brooks (1990). Players will play one course on Thursday, and the other one on Friday. After the cut of low-70 players and ties, the remaining field plays the South course on Saturday and Sunday.

This event will be televised all four days.

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