Reno-Tahoe Open: Stableford format a welcome change

RENO - It's points instead of strokes when the Reno-Tahoe Open's 14th tournament begins today at Montreux Golf & Country Club.

Strokes instead of points? Sounds strange and un-golflike, but the RTO has switched to the Modified Stableford scoring system.

The Stableford was developed more than 100 years ago. It is the same format used at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Lake Tahoe.

Some players in the field competed at the old International, which used the Stableford system, until the tournament was taken off the schedule because of lack of a title sponsor. Many, however, have not.

It's an idea that Jana Smoley, tournament director, took to the PGA. It was met with no resistance.

"The PGA believes there is merit to this format in Reno," said PGA Chief of Operations Andy Pazder in a news release. "It not only promotes aggressive play, which the tournament is already known for, but Montreux lends itself to this exciting format with its series of challenging PGA finishing holes."

The par-3 16th and the par-4 17th are the toughest holes on the course, while the 18th is a true risk-reward hole and generally plays under par.

Australian-born Rod Pampling is one of several who played the International, which used the Stableford scoring. In fact, he won the International in 2004. That alone makes him one of the players to watch this week.

"Yeah, I have played here a few times and had some success," Pampling said. "I think with the new format, hopefully, the officials will set it up so that we can be more aggressive.

"There are certainly a lot of holes out here where in normal play setup the normal way you're going to be a bit more careful than you normally would. I think with this set-up (switching the nines), I think coming down to Sunday there are potentially three holes where you could eagle - maybe four. I think the course sets up for a good finish."

Pampling was referring to the par-5 13th and the par-5 18th. He also said the 367-yard 14th is reachable with driver though hazards could come into play.

Pampling said distance control could be the key for him.

"The first year I played in Colorado, I had never played in altitude," he said. "I had no clue what to do. One ball would go a long way; the next ball wouldn't go anywhere. I was very confused.

"The next year I went there, and for whatever reason, things clicked. I think my ball flight is not as high as most guys, so I think I can control distances a little better. Obviously they still go a bit further than normal. A lot of guys get the ball in the air, and once it's up there, anyone can guess how far it's going to go. I think my distance control is a little better than guys who hit it high. That's where I have a slight advantage."

While Pampling has played several Stableford events, Padraig Harrington, arguably the biggest name in the 132-player field this week, hasn't played one.

Until Monday, Harrington had never even seen the Montreux layout. Since his arrival he's played nine holes each day (Monday and Tuesday). He played well in the pro-am on Wednesday.

"There's always an issue if you don't know the golf course," said Harrington. "Not being familiar with the golf course, you're always going to give up a couple of shots during the week. But hopefully, you get the breaks here and there to make up for that.

"I tried to keep the score and play Stableford points, and just try to get myself in that mindset. You know it's a lot like changing from stroke play to match play. You've got to be a bit more aggressive. You know, if you look at the system itself ... missing birdie putts this week is a lot worse than missing par putts. This week you're only losing half a shot if you make bogey on a hole."

Harrington welcomes a change in format.

"It's nice when we play a match play event," he said. "Then again, with this event it's nice to play something different. When you're trying to make yourself individual, you're trying to make yourself different. This is what the Stableford points do. I've often said when we come to a casino town like Reno, there should be a wheelbarrow of cash on the 18th green. They should be handing it out in real money rather than checks into accounts.

"I never played in the Colorado event, but a lot of people, you know, wish they had that event. Reno can fulfill that spot and set themselves apart."


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