STATELINE, Nev. (AP) For the first time in its 18-year history, the defending champion of the annual celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe beginning Friday is not a quarterback, pitcher, hockey player or defensive back.
He's an actor, albeit an athletic one who once won the pro-am title at the AT&T Pebble Beach Classic with PGA pro John Cook.
"I've never had to defend up here before," said Jack Wagner, the longtime star of the "Bold and the Beautiful" who won the $100,000 first-prize check at last year's American Century Celebrity Golf Championship.
"So I'm just kind of starting this whole thing anew. I'm sort of pretending last year didn't happen," he said.
The 54-hole tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course runs through Sunday on the shores of the azure mountain lake. This year's purse has been upped $100,000 to $600,000, with $125,000 going to the winner.
The field of 81 past and present athletes, entertainers and other celebrities includes Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Elway, Mike Schmidt, Mario Lemeiux, Jason Kidd, Jerry Rice, Carson Palmer, Dan Quayle and Ray Romano.
"This is our 18th year and it's grown every year, but this I think we can honestly say is our biggest year ever," said Jon Miller, vice president of NBC Sports, which televises Saturday's and Sunday's rounds. ESPN2 is carrying Friday's opening round.
Newcomers include Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, ex-Steelers running back Jerome Bettis and actor Chris Tucker.
Some of the competitors clearly are in the field for their star power, not their golf swings. Barkley and Chris Webber have been known to hit a spectator or two with errant shots as they battle over a wager of who will finish worse.
Last year, actor Matthew Settle drove his ball through the windshield of a boat that was anchored along the par-3 17th hole.
As has become tradition, the local casino sports books list Barkley as the longest shot in the field at 500-to-1 odds.
"Charles should give up," said Rice, the former wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers who takes the tournament seriously. He looks forward to renewing his rivalry with Jordan.
"I want to take Michael down, and I'm sure Michael wants to do the same thing with me," Rice said. "I can't just enjoy golf if I don't play well. It's just my competitive nature."
Palmer said he enjoys Tahoe's beauty regardless of his play, but agrees the competitive juices start flowing as soon as he steps on the course.