This year's RTO loaded with champion-caliber players

RENO - One thing that isn't missing in this year's Reno-Tahoe Open is championship caliber players.

There are a total of 54 past PGA Tour winners in the field this week at the Reno-Tahoe Open being played at Montreux Golf & Country Club.

Included in that number is eight past RTO champs. That list includes Notah Begay III (1999), Chris Riley (2002), Kirk Triplett (2003), Vaughn Taylor (2004-05), Will MacKenzie (2006), Steve Flesch (2007), Parker McLachlin (2008) and Matt Bettencourt (2010).

In terms of total PGA wins, David Duval and Justin Leonard lead the way with 13 and 12, respectively. Steve Elkington is next with 10.

Scott McCarron, the host of the RTO is impressed with this year's field.

"It's the best field we've ever had," he said. "There is no question. I think this field rivals may Tour events out there, it really does.

"I think the word has been getting around more and more of how great the golf course is, how great the area is and how much fun the players have when they come here."

Justin Leonard, making his first appearance in Reno since tying for fifth in 2001, agreed.

"Yeah, it is good (the field)," Leonard said after his pro-am round. "I think it's a testament to the tournament here and the golf course, and, you know, guys enjoy coming here."

McCarron gives a lot of credit to Jana Smoley, executive director of the RTO.

"Jana has done a tremendous job," McCarron said. "She's been going out there to tournaments recruiting players. She walks down the driving range talking to guys. It's very difficult to say no to Jana. She's a go-getter and has done a tremendous job recruiting.

"She's made my job as the host going out there talking to guys easier. When I go out there, Jana has already talked to them and already convinced them to play. To have some of my buddies come here and play really means a lot to me."

Could this field possibly help secure a title sponsor for the event?

"I hope so," McCarron said. "Anybody out there looking to possibly sponsor a Tour event, just look at the field, look at the weather we're going to have this week and look at the golf course and how it's going to show this week on TV.

"I can't think of a better place for a title sponsor to come in here and really do a tremendous job. We've got everything in place. We just need a title sponsor."

LEONARD BACK IN RENO

Leonard isn't a new face, but it's been 10 years since he last played in Reno. Since then he's usually played well enough to make the tournament opposite the RTO.

"I'm so happy that he came here," McCarron said. "I mean to have a guy of his status, a major winner (1997 British Open) really is a feather in the cap of the Reno-Tahoe Open."

Leonard has played in 21 events and made 10 cuts en route to winning nearly $360,000. His best finish came back in January when he finished 13th at the Bob Hope Classic.

He's missed the cut in two of his last three tournaments despite being just 6-over-par.

"The last few weeks I've played better, but just haven't scored well," Leonard said. "So you know I'm doing some things to try and improve that. I'm just really trying to enjoy my time on the golf course."

DAYTON QUALIFIERS IN FIELD

Scott Gordon and Andres Gonzales, who played in last year's Stage I qualifier at Dayton Valley and eventually earned their PGA Tour cards, are in the field this week.

Gonzales goes off No. 10 today at 1:17 p.m., while Gordon will be in the last group of the day at 1:50.

Unless something drastic happens down the stretch, both players will have to go through qualifying again next year.

Gonzales has played in 15 tournaments and made just five cuts. He's currently 211th on the money list. The top 125 on the money list earn cards for the following season.

Gonzales' best finish was a tie for 22nd at the John Deere Classic which earned him $39,488. His other decent payday was at the FedEx St. Jude Classic when he tied for 38th and won $21,840.

Gordon has played in 14 events and made just two cuts. He won $7,511 at the Mayakoba Classic and then won $20,800 when he tied for 45th at the Byron Nelson Championship.

According to tour officials, finishing the year ranked between 126 and 150 on the money list means that a player would play in the final qualifier.

Finishing below 150, a player would start competition in the second stage.

RTO TRIVIA TIME

Want to know what it takes to make the cut at the RTO?

In 2010, all it took was a 5-over-par 147 to play the final 36 holes. It was the fourth time that an over-par 36-hole total moved on. In 1999, 2000 and 2003, a 1-over-par 145, advanced players. The lowest cut total was 2001 when it took a 2-under-par 142 to advance.

How many players became first-time winners at the RTO?

That would be six - Bettencourt, Begay III, Riley, Taylor, MacKenzie and McLachlin.

Montreux ranks second behind Firestone Country Club in terms of toughest greens to hit inside 125 yards. Firestone is toughest at 72.65 and Montreux is next at 73.77 percent.

The course is second in terms of easiest fairways to hit at 78.2 percent and has the third-longest hole on the PGA Tour, the par-5 636-yard 17th which is now the 8th hole.

PRO-AM RESULTS

The teams of Paul Goydos and Rich Beem won Wednesday's pro-am with 18-under 54s. John Daly's team carded a 56 as did Will MacKenzie while Vaughn Taylor's group had a 57.

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