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Floyd, Nicklaus and Woods at Western Am

By John VandenHeede

Tiger Woods draws the largest galleries in amateur golf.

Fans flock to watch the world's best amateur player, including thousands each of the past two summers at the Western Amateur golf tournament in Benton Harbor.

While the Stanford All-American will again be the top attraction at Point O'Woods Golf & Country Club this summer, the field has plenty of other big name draws--like Nicklaus and Floyd.

Mike Nicklaus, the son of PGA legend Jack Nicklaus, and Robert Floyd and Raymond Floyd Jr., the sons of pro star Ray Floyd are among others who will attract large crowds at Point O'Woods for the July 31 through August 4 tournament.

The famous fathers could also show up to watch their sons. Jack has been at the Benton Harbor course several times to watch his sons, while Ray Sr. was at the NCAA tournament in Tennessee in June to see his boys play.

Robert Floyd will be of particular interest this year because he defeated Woods, the 1994 Western Amateur champion, 2 up in the tournament's match play semifinals last August. Floyd then lost in the finals to Patrick Lee 2 and 1. Lee has turned pro and won't be back this year.

Making the Western Amateur finals was a big step in the career of the 20-year-old Floyd, a University of Florida junior-to-be.

Joining Floyd and Woods as returning Sweet Sixteen players at the Western Amateur this year will be Steve Allan, Jason Buha, Danny Green, Jay Hobby, Ryuji Imada, Justin Roof and Scott Rowe.

Allan was among three Australians in the Sweet Sixteen last year.

Buha, who hails from Farmington Hills, had the honor of making the Sweet Sixteen through prequalifying at Lake Michigan Hills in Benton Harbor. He is a Duke senior.

Green is among old-timers in amateur golf. The 39-year-old from Tennessee was the runnerup to champion Justin Leonard in the 1993 Western Amateur and runnerup in the 1989 U.S. Amateur. Overall, he has made the Western Amateur's Sweet Sixteen three times.

Hobby is an Auburn player who made the Sweet Sixteen in his first Western Amateur tournament.

Imada is a 19-year-old who also made the Sweet Sixteen in his first amateur while playing as the world's top-ranked junior.

Rob is a 5-5 mighty mite who ranked No. 2 to Woods for two years in the junior ranks. The 20-year-old Wake Forest senior was the tournament's co-medalist with Mathew Goggin of Australia last year.

Rowe is a Northwestern All-American who tied the Point course record with a 64 in the final day of stroke play qualifying last year. The 21-year-old will be after his third straight Sweet Sixteen berth.

Sweet Sixteen players from 1994 back at Benton Harbor will include John Curley and Kevin Marsh, while a match play qualifiers from 1993 returning is Jason Gore.

All have their followers, but Woods is guaranteed to have the biggest crowd. There was a record four-day attendance of 14,694 when Woods won the NCAA championship in June in Tennessee.

The Western Amateur annually has the largest crowds in amateur golf and Woods has attracted some of the largest galleries. There were more than 12,000 fans at the Point for the final day when Woods won in 1994 and 13,210 at the Robert Trent Jones course for the semifinal and final rounds last August.

It should be the same this year when the 20-year-old returns to awe fans with his 300-yard plus drives.

Woods joined Bobby Clampett as the only 18-year-olds to win the Western Amateur in the 27 years it has been held at Point O'Woods in 1994. Just weeks later, Tiger made more golf history by becoming the youngest champion in the 95 years of the U.S. Amateur golf championship.

Woods repeated as the U.S. Amateur champ in 1995, but Floyd took away chances for a repeat Western Amateur crown. The word on the course in the Floyd match was that Woods' left knee was bothering him. His caddie confirmed it, but Woods wouldn't talk about it.

This summer may be the last time for fans to see Woods as an amateur. He is playing only two amateur events--the Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur--this summer among an otherwise all pro schedule. There are rumors that Woods will turn pro after the U.S. Amateur rather than returning for his junior year at Stanford University.

The Western Amateur opens with 72-holes of stroke play on Wednesday, July 31, through Friday, August 2, to determine the 16 players who will go into match play Saturday and Sunday, August 3 and 4, to determine the champion.

There will be prequalifying for non-exempt players Monday, July 29, at the Lake Michigan Hills and Hampshire Country Club near Dowagiac.

Point O'Woods can be reached from I-94 by taking I-196 north to the first exit (Red Arrow Highway). Then go east on Red Arrow to Roslyn Road. Turn south (right) on Roslyn to the course. Admission is $5.

John VandenHeede is the sports editor for the St. Joseph Herald-Palladium.

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