Thursday, July 30, 2009
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Pros express regard for troubled Buick Open

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[July 30, 2009]  GRAND BLANC TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- Two-time champion Tiger Woods will be making his ninth appearance in the Buick Open.

HardwareIn the face of Buick's plans to pull its tournament sponsorship after this year, he hopes it won't be his last.

"Obviously this area's been struggling a bit," Woods said. "I think the atmosphere, all the players have really enjoyed playing in front of the fans here. It is very intimate."

General Motors Co. will end its half-century run as sponsor of the Buick Open, a person briefed on the decision told The Associated Press this week. The person spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the announcement will not be made until the tournament ends.


Whatever the status of sponsoring agreements, several PGA Tour pros expressed their affinity for the Warwick Hills course's tree-lined fairways, short layout and distinctly human feel.

It's the small-town atmosphere that makes the Buick unlike many PGA Tour stops.

"That kind of support, that kind of commitment from the fans to come out and see us play, yeah," 2003 champion Jim Furyk said. "That's what makes a golf tournament special and what the guys enjoy."

Fifty miles north of Detroit, Grand Blanc has big-city ties without the need to compete with other major sports.

"It's easy to do Chicago or Boston. It's a big deal. It's the PGA Tour, it's still Tiger Woods and the best golfers in the world. But you have to go against the Phillies and the Celtics," Furyk said. "We really thrive in those small-medium size cities ... You can feel a sense in the crowd because it's a big deal around those towns."

Sometimes, this even includes running into some of the same fans and marshals year after year.

"You see the same people on the same greens, on the same tees each and every year. You kind of get to know them, say hi to them, how's everything going," Woods said. "You don't get to say that in any other tournament, except for maybe the Masters because some people have been going to the Masters for 50-plus years in the same seat."

The course's close-up feel extends to its geography. A generally flat layout and short hole distances emphasizes a solid short game and technical skill over booming drives, something 1995 winner Woody Austin said is lacking in many modern courses.

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"I love traditional golf. I love old golf courses," Austin said. "You get courses like this when the guys can't hit it up over the trees and they actually have to hit golf shots, which they're not comfortable with."

And then there's the 17th hole and its legendary grandstand.

"It's a tournament that you know regardless of how you're playing, what time of the day you're playing, you're still going to have a big crowed around 17," Austin said. Despite the lack of certainty on the sponsorship and wide support for the event, Wednesday's Pro-Am often felt like a going-away party. Woods drew widespread gratitude for his appearance at the tournament.

"I can't tell you how many times I heard out there, 'Thank you for coming, Tiger,'" said rocker Bob Seger, who played in a Pro-Am fivesome with Woods Wednesday. "I mean, everywhere he was walking: 'Thanks for coming.'"

[Associated Press; By DAVID GRANT]

AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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