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Bricker prepared to defend WACO title

August 11, 2006|by TIM KOELBLE

There most likely will be plenty of golf balls carrying long distances off the tees, but this year's 23rd edition of the WACO Championship might well come down to the one player who has the most success attacking the greens with irons and wedges.

Beginning Saturday morning at 6:30, 170 golfers will contest conditions covering more than 6,500 yards over the par-72 layout at Beaver Creek Country Club.

Dry conditions throughout the area have left the course in some stress in areas, but WACO tournament chairman Rod Steiner said all systems are "go" and calls the 2006 field one of the strongest ever.

"There are many past champions in the field and a lot of other really good golfers," said Steiner. "There are some stressed areas, but 70 percent of the course has good coverage. We'll be playing the ball down all the way. I think players are going to be able to fire at pins because the greens are soft and they're going to hold shots."

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Leading the cast of players is defending champion Chad Bricker, of Waynesboro, Pa., recent winner of the prestigious Pennsylvania Amateur. Last year, Bricker and fellow Waynesboro golfer Steve Caron engaged in a battle that resulted in a nine-hole playoff.

Bricker, who will be a sophomore at Penn State University, posted a 1-under-par 143 to win the title, which also snapped Kevin Reiber's two-year run as champion.

"Every time I go out to play a tournament, I go out to win," said Bricker, who will begin a run at the Pennsylvania Open crown following the WACO. "I had a lot of good chances to hit good shots at the Amateur. I'm looking forward to playing this weekend."

As he did last year, Bricker will have to stave off the challenge of many top-flight golfers, who include Caron, Reiber, Kenny Smith, Kenny Lampard, Greg Henry and many others.

Smith, who plays out of Penn National, still holds the tournament record from when he shot a 7-under-par 137 for the title in 2002 and has been a constant threat every year since. He recently set the Founders Course 18-hole record at Penn National with a 63 despite a scaled-down playing schedule.

"There hasn't been much time being a new dad," said Smith, who carries plenty of distance off the tee. "If my driver is working and I keep the ball in play and putt well, I think I've got a shot to win."

Reiber, who won in 2003 and 2004 and holds the tournament record for most birdies in a round with 11 in 2003, is ready to shoot for his third title.

"I'm excited for the weekend," he said. "I just want to be in the hunt the first day because I think I'm a good second-day player. I think 140 will be a good score."

If Reiber can win, he'd tie veteran Greg Henry for the most wins in WACO history.

Henry, the prep golf coach at Boonsboro, has renewed optimism and would like nothing better than to break a long championship drought that stretches back to 1989. He also won in 1986 and 1984.

"I've actually not been playing bad lately," said Henry, who shot a 1-under 71 in Wednesday's Pro-Am. "I really want to get a fourth title, but with that goal in mind, it does get harder all the time."

Caron, another of the long hitters, had a recent amount of success with a 21st-place tie in July at the Maryland Open, played over three days at the difficult Four Streams Golf Club.

"I was happy how I played at Four Streams, hitting a lot of greens," said Caron, who recently shot a record-low 10-under-par 44 at Yingling's. "What hurt was the 'Caron bug-a-boo' and that's putting. I'll do some course management, but I'm not going to be afraid to go for the par 5s in two."

Also in the field and fresh off a big victory will be Ashley Grier, who captured the Maryland Women's Open earlier this week. Other former champions playing include Chuck Ingram (1991), Jamie Young (1993), Findlay Benjamin (1999) and Drew Forrester (2000).

Saturday's first-round results will determine Sunday's four flights of play.

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