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Howell, Riley, Perez Chasing Title

August 22, 2002

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RENO, Nev. (AP) _ Charles Howell III arrived at last year’s Reno-Tahoe Open as one of the favorites to get his first victory on the PGA Tour.

The 23-year-old phenom has won more than $1 million since, but was still winless entering the $3 million tournament, which begins Thursday at the 7,472-yard Montreux Golf & Country Club.

``I think winning out here is tougher than a lot of people give it credit for,″ Howell said Wednesday. ``There are so many good golfers out here. At the end of the day, there’s not much difference between first, second, third or fourth. It’s just a game of inches.

``I’d love to win. That’s my No. 1 goal for this year. But I’m patient as well. I’m not going to go out and be getting impatient.″

Howell, former UNLV standout Chris Riley and rookie Pat Perez are among the rising stars, each with $1 million in earnings, also are in the field along with major champions Mark O’Meara, Corey Pavin and Lee Janzen, Mark Brooks, Bob Tway and Craig Stadler, who formerly lived at nearby Lake Tahoe.

The top players in the world qualified for the World Golf Championship NEC Invitational, also being played this week. That means defending Reno champ John Cook and previous winners Scott Verplank and Notah Begay III will be at the NEC.

Though the Reno-Tahoe Open has helped jump-start the careers of the past winners and has increasingly attracted a crop of rookie talent soon to be ranked among the world’s best, it has been unable to secure a title sponsor or network television contract and is struggling to survive beyond this year.

Riley, who improved to 29th on the money list with his third-place finish last week in the PGA, figures he has as good of chance as anyone to win after going head-to-head with Tiger Woods on Saturday.

``We shot the same score (72),″ he said. ``Playing with the No. 1 player in the world on the weekend at a major and tying him can’t do anything but boost your confidence.″

Local sports books have made O’Meara (12-1) and Howell (15-1) the favorites. Riley and Steve Flesch are 20-1.

``Every week I see Charles Howell, I think he’s due for a victory,″ said J.P. Hayes, who claimed his second PGA Tour victory earlier this summer at the John Deere Classic and has played well at Reno in past years. ``He’s done awfully well for a while to not have won.

``Steve Flesch seems like a guy who should have won. It’s just a matter of time for both those guys. Mark O’Meara is playing well too.″

O’Meara, who won both the Masters and the British Open in 1996 and is 15th on the career money list with $12.7 million, has tied for second twice this year and ranks 67th with $682,396 in earnings.

Both Perez and Riley, whose 70.10 scoring average is 14th on tour, have finished in the top 10 at four tournaments this year.

``I feel like I can win every week,″ said Perez, who finished second at the AT&T Pebble Beach and tied for second at the Buick Classic.

Bryce Molder, 23, third at Reno last year, and Aaron Baddeley, 21, a three-time winner on the Australasian tour, are among the other youngsters aiming for their first PGA Tour win at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course that meanders through towering pines and mountain streams in the shadow of the 10,900-foot Mount Rose.

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