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Optimism high event will go on

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 20, 2003

LUTZ -- Among the many topics sure to be discussed by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem in a mandatory meeting with Champions Tour players Wednesday night was the status of the Verizon Classic.

This is the last year of the communication company's title sponsorship of the 16-year-old tournament, and there has been concern about finding a new title sponsor.

"I've got to believe with the strength of the tournament, the support we have locally, the quality of the golf course, the fields we get, the weather, everything, we will be able to figure out a way to continue," Finchem said in a session with reporters. "The challenge is to get through the rest of what has been a longer-than-assumed recession. Sponsorship is difficult right now."

Finchem said it was possible for the tournament to go on without a title sponsor.

"We're going to look at a lot of different possibilities," he said. "We're having a lot of conversations right now. ... I'm always one who thinks the glass is half full. But I do believe here that there are just too many good things. We'll get it worked out. I couldn't be more positive about it, except if I had a title sponsor I could announce to you. Short of that, I'm very positive."

Finchem also was to meet with representatives of Pro Links Sports, the marketing company that runs the tournament.

"We all feel like we're going to get something done," said Hollis Cavner, a co-owner of Pro Link Sports. "I'll be shocked if we don't have something pretty quick. They are putting on a full-court press to get this done."

LEARNING FROM TV: Doug Tewell, the defending Verizon Classic champion, is among a large group of Champions Tour players who moved to the circuit after doing television work. Others who went from the booth back to the course are Lee Trevino, Jim Colbert, Bob Murphy, Bill Kratzert and Gary Koch.

Tewell, who won here last year by a stroke over Hale Irwin, worked for the Golf Channel for three years. He said the experience was invaluable -- for his own game.

"Those three years changed the way I approach golf tournaments," said Tewell, who has six Champions Tour victories after winning four times in a 20-year PGA Tour career. "I got to see it every week. I was out there feeling it, understanding it. You understand that you don't have to be perfect to win. I always had this thing that you had to be perfect to win. But you don't."

PUTTING MAGIC: After Palm Harbor's Jay Overton shot 63 Saturday in Naples using one of his putters, Bobby Grace was getting a lot of interest in his model on the practice green this week. Called the "Amazing Grace," the triangular-shaped, milled aircraft aluminum putter was getting plenty of looks.

Grace of St. Pete Beach has been a long-time designer of putters. The key to this model, he said, is all the weight is in the back of the putter, which makes for a more forgiving clubhead. The putters retail for $250.

PRO-AM: In Wednesday's pro-am at the TPC of Tampa Bay, Tom Purtzer shot the low score with 7-under-par 64. His team was the lowest with 19-under 52. Purtzer's amateur partners were Brad Boice, Tom Britten, Martin Hainey and Gil Thelen. The Champions Tour is making a weekly $5,000 donation to benefit junior golf. The donation will go to the First Tee of Tampa chapter.

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