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HOPE CLASSIC NOTES

A good place to watch the birdies

January 17, 2007|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

What you need to know about the 48th Bob Hope Chrysler Classic is that, as usual, it will be a load of laughs and low scores.

Much has changed since Bob Hope started the event in 1960 as the Palm Springs Golf Classic, and Arnold Palmer earned $12,000 for winning it.

Hope died in 2003, at 100, and Palmer's career has been reduced to the Skins Game circuit, but a simple dimple concept is the same:

Christen the mainland start of the PGA Tour season with fun, sand, charity, sun, forgiving greens and a pro-am tournament stuffed with celebrities.

The tour officially starts in Hawaii now, but it doesn't really start until the West Coast Swing swings through Palm Desert.

The purse now is $5 million and they play five days on four courses, anchored at the 7,305-yard Classic Club.

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Chad Campbell, last year's winner, looks to defend his title, and 127 other pros will try to deny him.

Phil Mickelson, a two-time winner of the event, makes his 2007 debut as he tries to shake the memories of last year's late-season fade/slice.

David Duval, who shot his famous 59 at the Palmer Course in 1999, is looking to rekindle perhaps the last flicker of his golf flame.

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Comedian George Lopez has taken over as official host of the tournament, with the blessing of the Hope family.

Lopez tried Tuesday to describe what it meant to him when, in 2004, Dolores Hope told him that Bob was a fan of Lopez's comedy.

"It would be like if the pope sent you a letter and said, 'You're a good Catholic,' signed 'the Pope,' " Lopez said.

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The Hope is the way a lot of pros ease their way into a long season.

Mickelson has always played well here and says the strategy is simple.

"You have to go low," he said. "Go make birdies."

Campbell won last year's 90-hole event by shooting 25 under par. But that was nothing compared to 2001, when Joe Durant won at 36 under.

Before 2005, five straight winners reached 30 under par.

This is not the U.S. Open, which attempts to torture -- the U.S. Golf Assn. prefers the euphemism "identify" -- the world's best golfers.

In terms of the season, the Hope is like sticking your big toe in the water.

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They don't do many celebrity stops anymore. No more Bing Crosby clambakes. No more tournaments attached to Andy Williams or Sammy Davis Jr.

Golf has a more serious face now.

"In a sense, celebrity golf has dwindled a little bit," Lopez said.

So he is trying to beef up the celebrity roster and keep a tradition alive.

"Hollywood and golf and the PGA Tour have always gone well hand-in-hand, and that hand grip is slipping a little bit," Lopez said. "And I want to make sure that it stays strong for a lot of years to come."

Lopez has promised to deliver Clint Eastwood on Saturday.

"Don't tell him yet," Lopez quipped. "I was going to break it to him Friday."

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The four courses being used for the tournament are the Classic Club, Bermuda Dunes Country Club, La Quinta Country Club and the Palmer Course at PGA West.

The pro-am portion of the tournament will be 72 holes over the first four days. On Sunday, the low 70 professionals and ties will play the final round at the Classic Club.

Among the celebrities expected to play are Marcus Allen, Alice Cooper, Roger Clemens, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, Ray Romano, Oscar De La Hoya, Samuel L. Jackson and Yogi Berra.

Campbell won last year's event while mingling with the stars.

"I actually enjoy playing in the celebrity wave," Campbell said.

"I like meeting the guys.... When it's time for us to play golf, everyone's quiet and nobody's messing around or anything. Everybody has their own opinion, but I kind of like playing in the celebrity wave personally."

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Paul Goydos, winner of the Sony Open at Honolulu on Sunday, is also in the Bob Hope field.

Goydos went 246 events and nearly 11 years between PGA Tour victories before winning in Hawaii, and the 42-year-old from Long Beach jumped from 133rd to 39th in the world rankings.

A top-40 player?

"Boy, that's a pretty foreign concept," Goydos joked. " ... A friend of mine said I was 39th in the world and I said, 'That can't be right.' "

Goydos said he really doesn't understand how the rankings work.

"I will say that they got the No. 1 guy right," he said, alluding to Tiger Woods.

Goydos scored his only other PGA Tour victory at Bay Hill in 1996.

He said it was pointed out to him that, in that span, Woods won 54 times.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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