American Century Championship Tees Off Today

By: Scott Sonner Email
By: Scott Sonner Email

STATELINE, Nev. (AP) - Although golf's top players were in Scotland there was some celebrity power at Lake Tahoe on Friday, where Tony Romo was among those vying for the lead and Charles Barkley was testing out his new swing with varying success.

The Dallas Cowboys quarterback and the NBA Hall of Famer turned
television analyst were among 89 past and present sports stars, actors and politicians competing for the $600,000 purse in the first round of the 20th annual American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Edgewood-Tahoe Golf Course.

Barkley, the longshot in the field who was paired with actor Ray
Romano, spent several months earlier this year trying to revamp his swing during a Golf Channel series with Tiger Woods' swing coach, Hank Haney.

"Ray, are you doing the 'Haney Project' next year?" Barkley asked Romano. "Hank's a yeller and a screamer."

"So's my wife," Romano shot back before plugging his latest animated movie with the gallery on the first tee. "Why aren't you people at 'Ice Age?"'

The field included Wayne Gretzky, introduced as "the greatest hockey player of all time"; Jerry Rice, "the greatest wide receiver in NFL history"; and ultimate fighter Chuck Liddell, "the toughest man in the field."

Michael Jordan, a tourney regular who has tired of the lengthy mention of his accomplishments during the introductions over the years, requested he be introduced only as "playing out of Chicago, Illinois."

Friday's round featured some of sports' fans all-time dream pairings:

- Romo with NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway and Dan Marino

- Jordan with NBA greats Ray Allen and Penny Hardaway

- Gretzky with former NHL All-Stars Pierre Larouche and Grant Fuhr

- Running backs Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen and Marshall Faulk, who had a hole-in-one on the 169-yard, par-3 17th that borders the lake.

Before Barkley teed off, the mayor of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., thanked him for contributing $190,000 the past two years to a fund for victims of a wildfire that burned more than 250 homes at Lake Tahoe in 2007. He also presented him with a blown-up copy of a $5 betting ticket with Barkley's 750-1 odds - which actually dropped to 499-1 by the time play began.

"I've heard you may want to get into politics," Jerry Birdwell said about the most popular golfer on the course. "I hope you don't decide to run for mayor of South Lake Tahoe because I'd be out of a job."

Barkley's stop-and-go swing showed some improvement, hitting his
first drive more than 225 yards down the right side of the fairway. But he let a few expletives go and slammed his bag with his club when he chipped into a greenside bunker on the par-3 5th and couldn't get out in three shots.

Nevertheless, he and Romano entertained the biggest gallery on the mountain course that winds through tall pines along the azure lake atop the Sierra.

"All that weightlifting aint' paying off for me, Ray," Barkley said before his 60-foot putt for par came up an inch short on the par-3 7th.

"It's an easy game," he deadpanned after the tap-in bogey, his best score of the day at that point.

Romano's par on the same hole cost him $20 when he told a boy on the tee he'd give him that much if his tee shot landed on the green, and it did.

"You're probably going to follow me around now," he told the boy after producing the money.


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