Mulder looks to win third straight American Century Championship
IF YOU GO
What: American Century Championship
Where: Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course
When: Thursday through Sunday
TV: Friday: 3 to 5 p.m. on NBC SportsChannel with a replay at 9 p.m.; Saturday: Noon to 3 p.m. live on NBC; Sunday: Noon to 3 p.m. live on NBC
Tickets: Available at the front gate.
Defending champion: Mark Mulder
STATELINE – Nobody has won the American Century Championship three consecutive years.
Mark Mulder is aiming to change that.
Mulder, who won in 2015 and 2016 with scores of 82 points and 74 points, respectively, is confident about his chances for a three-peat entering the 28th annual event that kicks off today at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
“Records are made to be broken,” Mulder said Wednesday afternoon during a press conference. “It is a cliché, but it’s true. I feel good about my chances. This course sets up well for me. Prior to winning it the first time two years ago, I felt I had a chance to win. The last couple of years things worked out.
“I mean, I want to do that same thing, if not more. I mean, that’s the plan. Whether that happens or not, I have no idea. But this course sets up really well for me. I think for a lot of the better players, it becomes a putting contest. First two rounds last year I didn’t make a whole lot of putts but the final round last year I made a ton of putts and kind of made up for it.”
Mulder, a 3-1 favorite along with ex-Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, has been working on his game in Flagstaff, Ariz.
“Yeah, we had a home in Flagstaff for five years,” Mulder said. “We go up there every summer to get out of the heat. It’s 110 in Scottsdale, and when we pull into Flagstaff it’s 80.
“It’s about 7,000 feet. I think it’s a little more than here, but it’s pretty close. It helps with my yardages when I come here. Just feeling more comfortable hitting a wedge from, say, 160, 170 yards, whatever it might be. The ball goes a long way when you hit it high.”
Mulder admitted there are a few holes where he’s trying to figure things out (12, 15 and 18).
“Fifteen has always been a tough hole for me,” Mulder said. “I’ve tried hitting 3-wood to 5-iron before. It always seems like I have an in-between yardage.
“Eighteen I’m fine with, but I normally play a little more cut, and 18 sets up more for a draw. I can draw on my 3-wood. It depends on how I’m feeling going into some of those holes, what I’m going to hit. This year I might hit 3-wood on 18. I can still hit 3-wood and probably still hit a 7-iron or so on the green in two. The 12th has always been one that I struggle with the second shot just because it’s uphill into that green. Last year I birdied it on the final round, which I think that was the last hole that I haven’t birdied in this tournament. I think I birdied the rest.”
The group chasing Mulder is pretty solid. Ex-tennis star Mardy Fish finished second last year, Jack Wagner has won twice as has Mark Rypien. Jeremy Roenick was fourth last year. Steph Curry has played well here in the past and John Smoltz has a solid game.
“If I had to pick one, I’d have to say Mardy Fish,” Mulder said. “I joke with him. I still say if we played 10 rounds, he’d probably beat me six or seven out of the ten. He can flat out play. And he’s joked in the past that, ‘Hey, can somebody give me some putting lessons.’
“So maybe that’s the reason he hasn’t competed or hasn’t won them, my guess. You’d have to ask him. That’s just based off his comments. But he’s really good.”
Fish, who was in England at Wimbledon, said he’s excited to return after two straight top-5 finishes.
“I haven’t played much,” he said. “I’ll do a little crash course like Jack (Wagner) this week and see how it goes. But I’m super excited to play again and compete. It’s really the only competition we get anymore — that I get anymore. So it’s a lot of fun.”
Wagner, the only non-athlete to ever win the event, said he enters the tourney with low expectations. He’s the fourth-leading money winner in ACC history with $597,511.
“I’ve been gratefully working in Vancouver the past three months,” he said. “I’m coming in sort of like crash studying for a test. Maybe that’s a good thing. There have been years I’ve grinded and I think I’m really ready and I disappoint myself.
“So this year is very low expectations and try to play with a smile on my face and see what happens. It’s that simple. It is kind of weird when you don’t play. I know these guys, know they’re athletes. They go through seasons where they can’t play. But when you come out of it you can have a day you stripe it and the next two days you have no idea what you’re doing. That’s where I’m at kind of right now.”
Playing in elevation is critical, according to Wagner. Whoever makes the best adjustments will play well.
“It’s really hard to manage the distance up here,” he said. “So I found, over the years, it’s really an exercise in patience and tolerance, and not getting down on yourself when you don’t birdie holes you think should be easy birdie holes.”
Romo hasn’t played since 2012, mainly because of injuries. After an 11th-place finish in 2007, he was third in 2008, second in 2009 through 2011, and fifth in 2012.
“I’m excited. I’m excited to play golf; to compete a little bit again,” Romo told reporters. “I’ve been practicing a little bit. I usually come here trying to find my game, but I feel like I at least have a chance to hit it somewhat solid this week. We’ll see what kind of scores I can put up.”
Roenick, who’s playing his 26th ACC, had a great chance in 2014. He was contending for the title with Rypien when rain and thunderstorms hit, forcing the course to be cleared. Approximately two hours later, Rypien went out and eagled the par-5 16th, birdied the par-3 17th and birdied the par-5 18th to win his second ACC crown.
“It’s one thing to lose a tournament,” Roenick said. “It’s another thing to get beat, and I got beat coming out of the rain delay by Mark. He put on an unbelievable show. It was a sick display of golf. But that drives you even more to make sure you play well.
“And, I think that experience with him helped me last year shooting a 68 in the last round.”