Texas event lures top-flight field

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The Independent Online

Texas' only LPGA event has survived its growing pains.

After a paltry inaugural field in 1999, the Philips Invitational Honoring Harvey Penick - that's the tourney's full name - has a top-flight lineup for 2000.

Thursday's opening round will include 18 of the tour's top 20 money winners, compared to just six of the top 20 a year ago.

Australian Karrie Webb, the tour's biggest name and top money winner this year, and Nancy Scranton, 11th on the money list, are the two notably absent names this week.

But a year of experience and a better slot in the tour schedule has helped the 72-hole, $850,000 tournament tremendously, director John Albertson said.

"It's night and day," Albertson said. "Last year I said we'd have a great field this year - and we do."

The biggest difference is timing. In 1999, the Philips Invitational fell much later in the month and only two weeks before the U.S. Open. Many top players skipped the Texas stop to practice for the Open.

This season's second women's major, the LPGA Championship, is almost two months away. The U.S. Open isn't until late July.

"There was so much going on last year that the players don't have to worry about now," said Meg Mallon, who tied for 14th at the 1999 Philips.

The schedule change also allows better television coverage. The tournament was squeezed into an early time slot last year and officials had to rush through trophy ceremonies with champion Akiko Fukushima.

The weather hasn't wreaked havoc this year, either. Flooding caused tournament officials to use an alternate front nine last year. Although heavy rain has hit the Austin area this week, the tournament will be played on the original 18 holes of the Onion Creek Club, which was the birthplace of the senior's Legends of Golf tournament.

Japan's Fukushima led wire-to-wire last year to claim her first victory in the United States.

The tournament is a tribute to former Austin resident Penick, one of golf's greatest instructors. When he was at the Austin Country Club, his pupils included two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw; U.S. Open winner Tom Kite; Kathy Whitworth, winner of 88 tournaments; Mickey Wright and Betsy Rawls. Penick died in 1995.