Rollins back to defend RTO title
RENO – John Rollins is back to defend his Reno-Tahoe Open championship albeit somewhat reluctantly.
Rollins, who won the 2009 title by three shots after an even-par 72 in the final round, admitted that he would have preferred to be in Scotland for the British Open.
Rollins wasn’t ranked high enough at the time to get an automatic invite, thus was forced to go through a qualifier back at Gleneagles Golf & Country Club back in late May.
“I was 4-under with three to play and I made a couple of bogeys coming in,” Rollins said Wednesday afternoon after his first practice round at picturesque Montreux Country Club. “Yeah, I would have gone to (Scotland). It’s a major championship. If you’re in and take the time to qualify, you pretty much have to go.
“You know, we always want to be in major tournaments. That’s what we’re out her to win and that’s what you are judged on. So yes, I would have gone. At the same time, it was a win-win for me. I either went to the British and played at St. Andrews or I get to come here and defend. So it worked out either way.”
Rollins started 2010 in fine fashion, recording three straight top-20 finishes – 8th at the SBS Championship in Kapalua, Hawaii; 14th at the Sony Open in Honolulu; and T20th at the Farmer’s Insurance.
Since then, it’s been a completely different story. In his past 15 tournaments, Rollins has missed the cut eight times and has just three top-25 finishes. Certainly not the type of season he envisioned for himself.
“I haven’t been scoring well obviously,” Rollins said. “My putting has been pretty sketchy early on. My putting has really let me down most of the season. That has gotten better. Now my iron game is not cooperating the way I’d like it to.
“I’m not hitting shots close to the hole and giving myself a lot of really good birdie opportunities that you need. The biggest thing is my scoring on par-5s. I’ve noticed it has been pretty bad this year (4.62). I put the ball in position, and then I think that my short game or short wedge game, has put me behind the 8-ball a lot. I’m really struggling to make birdies.”
Rollins is hoping that coming back to a course and a tournament where has had success could turn his season around.
“I hope so,” he said. “I’m hoping that I can draw off the good vibes that I have here. Like you said, jump-start a decent finish to the season. By far, a very poor season by my standards. A win here and some good play through the playoffs can change that pretty quick in this game.
“I like playing here. I like the golf course. I don’t know if it’s the way the holes are shaped of just the way the golf course feels, if it just sort of fits my eye with the shot pattern I like to play. I’ve felt very comfortable on this course.”
Especially the last two years when he took a first (2009) and second (2008). Rollins said he doesn’t feel any outside pressure to defend his title. Pressure, according to the 35-year-old Texan, is self imposed.
“Sure, there is pressure to defend,” Rollins said. “I think people expect things out of you. If you can avoid putting that much pressure on yourself and just enjoy the week for what it is I think you’ll be better off. That’s what I’m hopefully going to do this week.”
Rollins will have plenty of competition for the title this year. Two names that come to mind are two-time champion Vaughn Taylor, who is 34th on the money list, and Ryan Palmer, who is 38th. Both have won more than $1 million already this season.
Another guy to keep an eye on is veteran Scott McCarron, who has played in eight previous RTO events. He tied for second in 2004 and tied for fourth in 2000. In 28 career rounds at Montreux, which is his home course, McCarron has been under-par 18 times and 23 times he has been par or better. He has earned $455,771 at the event.
McCarron hasn’t been in the winner’s circle since the 2001 BellSouth Classic. He’s had six second-place finishes in that span, and he would like nothing better to get a win, especially in his hometown.
“I think a win any time means as much,” said McCarron, who just turned 45. “When I won at New Orleans in 1996 that means a tremendous amount. Just getting on the PGA Tour, and your life-long dream is to win on the PGA Tour, and then winning again the second time … OK that first one wasn’t a fluke, I can actually play out here.
“I think now a win would probably be even sweeter. It’s been a while since I won. I’ve finished second six times and lost a couple of playoffs that still sting.”
McCarron said the biggest edge he has is one the greens.
“They are very difficult to read because this golf course is built on such a severe slope that there are a lot of optical illusions out there that only come from experience,” McCarron said.
When asked who could contend, McCarron said he was hoping some of the “old guys” would step up.
“I’m kind of rooting for the old guys,” he said. “I’d like to see myself, Kirk Triplett, Steve Elkington and then you have Mark Brooks. You have a lot of veteran players that are playing here this week that have good records.”
Brooks is one of two major winners in the field. He is the 1996 PGA champion.
There are some talented youngsters in the field, too, that are searching for that first win.
Blake Adams (T-2 at Byron Nelson), Graham DeLeat (T-3 at Shell Open), Matt Every (T-8, Phoenix Open), Garth Mulroy (T-6 at Texas Open), Alex Prugh (T-5, Bob Hope Classic), Brian Stuard (T-2 at Mayakoba Golf Classic), Josh Teater (T-5 at Pebble Beach), Jeev Milkha Singh (T-9, Accenture Match Play) and Spencer Levin (T-9 at Texas Valero Open). Levin has already won more than $650,000 this season in 20 events, which surpassed all of what he won last year ($531,000).
Another player to keep an eye on is Jonathan Kaye, who has four top-10 finishes in seven RTO appearances. He was second in 2002 and 2005.