Friday, July 11, 2008

STATELINE, Nev. (AP) — Former NFL quarterback Chris Chandler is determined to successfully defend his title at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Lake Tahoe running Friday through Sunday.

But most of the others in the field of 80 past and present sports stars and entertainers are focused on the opposite end of the scoreboard, where Charles Barkley's name is usually found.

``As long as I'm ahead of Charles, I'm in good shape,'' said Jason Kidd, the Dallas Mavericks star and 2008 U.S. Olympian.

Barkley, the former NBA star and TNT commentator, is a 500-1 long shot to win the 54-hole tournament at the 6,707-yard Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, according to oddsmakers.

Michael Jordan, John Elway, Tony Romo, Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Jerry Rice, Ray Allen and Ray Romano are among some of the others who were to tee it up in Friday's opening round.

Digger Phelps, the former Notre Dame basketball coach turned TV analyst, offered a tutorial recently to some of the newcomers in this year's field chasing the $125,000 winner's check.

``The only thing we need to be careful of is to make sure Barkley doesn't W-D (withdraw) because that means one of us will finish last,'' Phelps said.

``We need Barkley healthy for three straight days - Friday, Saturday, Sunday. He's the guy that will make you look like a genius. Because whenever they post the scores everybody looks at the bottom line to see what Barkley shot. And they don't even know who the top five are.''

Newcomers include former NASCAR driver Dale Jarrett and former All-Star outfielder Darryl Strawberry.

While many of the players are happy to pick up their ball under the modified Stableford scoring system that treats anything worse than a bogey as a double bogey, some are bona fide golfers who carry single-digit handicaps.

Former major league pitcher Rick Rhoden, who has won the tournament six times and plays periodically on the PGA Champions Tour, routinely shoots under par. He's pocketed more than $872,000 in his career at Edgewood and is the 9-5 favorite to claim another title this week.

Former NHL star Dan Quinn, who has won the tournament four times and has nearly $600,000 in winnings, is next at 5-2. He's followed by ex-quarterback and two-time tourney winner Billy Joe Tolliver at 3-1 and actor Jack Wagner - who in 2006 became the first entertainer to win - at 7-1.

``It is intense,'' said Dan Quayle, the former vice president who will be back for his 10th appearance with odds of 60-1. ``If you think this is a walk in the park, these guys are serious. Even Digger is grinding away every single moment.''

Gene Upshaw, the former Oakland Raiders great who is executive director of the NFL Players Association and is listed at 100-1, is less serious about the competition.

``There are a bunch of guys who actually go out there and are trying to make a living and using this to support their income,'' Upshaw said. ``Then there's a bunch of guys like me who want to know when the round is going to be over so we can go have a glass of wine.''

Last year, Chandler had eight birdies en route to a 5-under 67 on Sunday to claim the championship in front of former 49ers quarterback John Brodie, his 72-year-old father-in-law who continues to give Chandler tips while recovering from a serious stroke he suffered in 2000.

``The way I finished up on that last round, I have a lot of confidence going into this year,'' Chandler said.

``To finally win that thing was such a relief and so exciting, especially having Brodie out there for every hole. It really made it a cool, cool experience.''

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