RENO, Nev. (AP) — The 16th edition of Reno’s PGA Tour event has a new sponsor, a new name, no defending champ and a modified Stableford scoring format that encourages aggressive play up and down the edge of the Sierra Nevada.
Defending champion Gary Woodland is playing in the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio that features the world’s top 75 players. Still, the Barracuda Championship has one of its best fields.
Retief Goosen, Davis Love III, Padraig Harrington, Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Weir, Stuart Appleby and David Toms are among those teeing off Thursday on the Jack Nicklaus-designed course at the Montreux Golf & Country Club that winds through mountain streams and towering pines half way between Reno and Lake Tahoe.
“I love Stableford and playing at altitude and I love playing Nicklaus courses. Suits my game,” said Love, the 20-time PGA Tour winner who won the former International twice outside Denver under the modified Stableford format.
The scoring system rewards aggressive play by awarding 8 points for double eagle, 5 for eagle, 2 for birdie, zero for par, minus-1 for bogey and minus-3 for anything worse.
“Generally this week you’re going to take someone that’s a good ball-striker, hits it a long way,” Love said. “Seems like they have an advantage.”
Harrington, the winner of three major championships, said on most courses he tends to play conservative off the tee and more aggressively into the greens.
“Here I think you’ve got to be aggressive off the tee because the golf course is quite long,” he said. “If you start laying back because you’re afraid of a bit of danger off the tee ... all of a sudden you’re hitting from 220 yards on a downslope into a green that runs away from you.”
The Irishman said the 5,500-foot elevation that makes the ball travel anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent farther than at sea level adds to the “risk-reward” factor.
“A long hitter is going to gain more with the altitude, but it’s really hard to control your distance the harder you hit the golf ball,” he said. “So it’s debatable which is better.”
Just three weeks ago, the tournament with a $3 million purse signed a four-year sponsorship deal with Barracuda Networks Inc., a California-based computer data security firm. It’s the tourney’s first title sponsorship since it was played as the Legends Reno-Tahoe Open in 2008 and 2009.
This week’s winner gets a $540,000 check and 300 FedEx Cup points. Last year, Woodland vaulted from 116th to No. 54 in the standings on the strength of his victory and went on to qualify for all four FedEx Cup playoff events.
Nick Watney, ranked 124 in the FedEx Cup standings, is among those competing in Reno this week who are the bubble to join the top 125 who will qualify for The Barclays — the playoff opener.
Others in that hunt include Weir, the 2003 Masters champion who is 131nd in the points race, 2012 Reno winner J.J Henry (132nd), 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman (139th), 2013 Reno runner-up Jonathan Byrd (152nd), Love (161st) and Harrington (189th).
“You know, I would love to be in Akron, but I’m here,” Watney said after completing his pro-am round Wednesday. “I’m going to enjoy it and hopefully make the most of it.”
Watney said the lush fairways, thick rough and fast greens set up nicely for the format.
“I think the course lends itself perfect to it,” he said. He said several holes lend themselves to aggressive play, but “if you get too far off the fairways you get in the forest.”