Twelve months ago, Calcavecchia denied Nobilo the chance of a hat-trick when he captured the $360,000 top prize with a record 17-under-par total of 271. Both men will be back at the glorious setting of Chateau Elan, Atlanta, for the fifth tournament named in honour of one of golf’s enduringly popular figures, Gene Sarazen.
"The Squire" may be well into his nineties, but he retains a keen interest in an event which has grown in stature since its inception in 1994, when South African Ernie Els won the inaugural tournament. Sarazen always envisaged the end-of-season event as ‘A Gathering of Champions’ and so he decreed that national open champions should be invited to play at Chateau Elan. As ever, the field includes the past two champions of all those national opens worldwide, who will be competing for total prize money of $2 million.
Last year Calcavecchia never looked like being caught after shooting a course record 10-under-par 62 in the first round. As the Americans like to say, the 1989 Open champion enjoyed a wire-to-wire victory, spurred on by record crowds of around 20,000 on the final afternoon. Calcavecchia began the final round with a six stroke lead over the field and it was Britain’s Lee Westwood, playing with the runaway leader, who posed the greatest threat.
Westwood eventually finished runner-up, three strokes behind Calcavecchia, with a 14-under-par total of 274. That secured the Worksop Ryder Cup player a cheque for $216,000 and a glowing tribute from Calcavecchia who, during his winner’s speech, described the young Englishman as "a future superstar".
Westwood won’t be back in Atlanta this week, but many European Tour regulars will be challenging Calcavecchia and Nobilo for the title. Among the leading Europeans are Murphy’s Irish Open champion David Carter, Qatar Masters winner Andrew Coltart, Italian Open champion Patrik Sjöland, Smurfit European Open champion Mathias Grönberg, Peugeot Open de France winner Sam Torrance and Trophée Lancôme winner Miguel Angel Jiménez. In addition, England’s Warren Bennett - the emphatic winner of the European Challenge Tour - is in the field along with other Challenge Tour regulars Jorge Berendt, who won the AXA Grand Final last week, and Gordon Sherry.
John Huston, who landed the Walt Disney World Golf Classic last week, has confirmed his entry along with Alfred Dunhill Cup star Retief Goosen of South Africa. Goosen collected five points out of a possible five at St.Andrews as South Africa retained the trophy.
The first Sarazen World Open, later to be sponsored by Subaru, went to Els thanks to a wonderful last round 65. Nobilo won a rain-shortened tournament in 1995 after grabbing four birdies in five holes over the back nine for a round of 68 and three-round total of 208. The New Zealander returned the following year and edged out Scott Hoch to defend his title, turning a four-shot deficit on the last day into a four-stroke victory.
Twelve months ago it was Calcavecchia’s turn. Now the players return to Chateau Elan to play the course set among the rolling hills of north Georgia which was the brainchild of Dr Donald E Panoz.
Panoz conceived the tournament to honour a man whose very name is synonymous with golf and integrity. Now 96, he has been an icon for decades and won his first two majors, the US Open and US PGA Championship, in 1922 at the age of 20. Sarazen helped design the Legends course at Chateau Elan along with Sam Snead and Kathy Whitworth. Now, this par 72-hole lay-out has once again attracted many of the biggest names in the game of golf.