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Next up for Ironman: No. 150

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001


NAPLES, Fla. -- Mike McCullough was unable to capture his first Senior PGA Tour title. A final-round 75 Sunday left him in a tie for 17th at the ACE Group Classic. So he will have to try again this week.

McCullough will play his 150th consecutive Senior PGA Tour event this week at the Verizon Classic.

McCullough, who began the streak in 1996, said it was not by design. He simply decided that in order to assure himself a place to play, he needed to climb the all-time money list, one of the exemption criteria.

"I have a position on the all-time money list, and when I reach that position, then I'll stop," said McCullough, 57th on the all-time combined money list with more than $3.6-million. "Until then, I'm not going to stop. I'm just trying to solidify my career out here so I can play when I want to."

After the top 31 on the previous year's money list, fields are filled by the top 31 players on the all-time list, excluding those from the previous year. The top 70 all time are exempt for every tournament.

Entering the Naples tournament, Tom Shaw held the 70th position, followed by Jerry McGee and Calvin Peete. Depending on the number of entries, players below 70th can get spots in the field.

"You can worry on a weekly basis," said Frank Conner, who was 75th and played in Naples but faces qualifying today. "It would drive you crazy. I just take each week as it comes and hope I make a big check."

ON THE MOVE?: One thing constant about the Naples event is change. After two years at Pelican Marsh Golf Club, the event will move to an undetermined location in Naples for 2002. Next year will be the sixth course in the tournament's 15 years. The tournament also has had five sponsor changes. One course mentioned as a new location is TwinEagles Golf and Country Club, an exclusive Jack and Jackie Nicklaus design that has a $120,000 initiation fee for members.

A site should be finalized "in the next few weeks, with TwinEagles on the list," tournament director Bob Burris said.

HEADED NORTH: By Sunday night, many in the ACE Group Classic were driving up I-75 to Tampa for the Verizon Classic at the TPC of Tampa Bay. And some will be on the course today.

Among those competing in the pro-am are Tampa's Jim Dent, Bob Duval, Orville Moody, Jim Thorpe, Hugh Baiocchi and Walter Morgan. Shotgun start is 11 a.m.. The final four spots in the 78-player field will be determined today in a qualifier at Fox Hollow Golf Club at New Port Richey.

SKIPPING SARASOTA: Unlike past years, there is no senior stop in Sarasota. The tour typically has started its full-field schedule in Key Biscayne, then moved to Naples or Sarasota, with Tampa in the middle. But this year's Sarasota event was dropped when title sponsor LiquidGolf.com elected to become affiliated with a senior event in Atlanta. That left too little time to find a replacement.

Efforts are under way to get the tour back in Sarasota in 2002. "It's a full-court press," said Bob Burris, who serves as tournament director for both locations. "The tour definitely wants four events in Florida."

Verizon Classic

WHO: 78 Senior PGA Tour players including defending champion Bruce Fleisher, Larry Nelson, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins, Hale Irwin, Raymond Floyd, Gary Player, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Lee Trevino.

WHAT: 54-hole tournament, Friday through Sunday.

WHEN/WHERE: Today through Sunday at TPC of Tampa Bay, Lutz.

PURSE: $1.4-million; $210,000 to the winner.

TV: 1-3 p.m. Friday, Pax; 6-8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, CNBC (tape delay).

TICKETS: Admission is free today-Thursday. Tickets for tournament rounds are $20 in advance, $25 at the gate. A day book, which has six tickets, is $70 in advance, $80 at the gate. A championship package, which has Friday-Saturday-Sunday admission and one sponsor parking pass, is $60. For information, call (813) 265-4653.

PARKING: Available on Van Dyke Road east of Dale Mabry. Follow the signs from the Veterans Expressway or Dale Mabry Highway. Cost is $5 per car. No public parking will be available on Lutz Lake Fern Road once the tournament begins.

SCHEDULE: Today -- Open qualifying for the final four spots in the field is at Fox Hollow Golf Club, New Port Richey. The pro-am is an 11 a.m. shotgun at the TPC of Tampa Bay. Tuesday -- Junior Pro-Am is a 9 a.m. shotgun at Heritage Harbor, Lutz. The Senior PGA Tour Skills Challenge is at 2 p.m. at the TPC of Tampa Bay. Wednesday-Thursday -- The Championship Pro-Am has 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. shotgun starts. Thursday -- The Super Seniors Pro-Am is a 9 a.m. shotgun start at Fox Hollow. Friday-Sunday -- Tournament rounds begin at approximately 8 a.m. -- Compiled by BOB HARIG.

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