Hope Classic field short on stars

La Quinta: Many golfers no longer give a second thought to the Bob Hope Classic. The Palm Springs area`s venerable pro-am is too long, too complicated and not lucrative enough for most pros.

Don`t tell that to Bubba Watson, who sees a unique opportunity where so many golfers only see a hassle.

"I love playing golf. I play every day," said Watson, who finished tied for second behind Bill Haas last year. "Me and my wife got here Saturday, played 30 holes on Sunday, played at a different course (Monday), and then she`s out playing right now."

Watson, Matt Kuchar and the rest of the field are soaking up the Hope`s picturesque setting and classic vibe while preparing to meet the unusual challenges of the PGA Tour`s only 90-hole, four-course event with three amateurs playing alongside each pro.

Most players aren`t scared away by the prospect of playing on four courses. They`re not particularly challenging courses, and the tour record for birdies is annually endangered.

Many top pros instead shy away from the Hope because of its five-day format and the grinding pace that often leads to six-hour rounds — oh, and the glitzier Abu Dhabi Championship, which happens concurrently.

"I always used to skip the Hope because of that," Kuchar said. "I felt like, how am I ever going to get practice rounds in? It seems like it`s just a little too much to handle."

Kuchar changed his mind after making a preseason practice trip to Palm Springs a few years ago and loving the Coachella Valley.

"You wake up in the morning, and it feels like they`re pumping oxygen out there," Kuchar said. "You feel like you`re playing inside a dome."

Although the tournament still attracts an entertaining field of amateur playing partners — Kurt Russell, Kevin Nealon, Peter Gallagher and athletes ranging from Julius Erving to Evan Longoria are playing this week — it`s a far cry from the days when Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Clint Eastwood, Burt Lancaster and former presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford filled the field.

The Hope Classic has no title sponsor for the third straight year. Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson and a big chunk of the sport`s best players are in Abu Dhabi, while the Hope has just six of the top 50 — an improvement from last year, when No. 37 Mike Weir was the top-ranked golfer in Palm Springs.

Bureau Report