- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Tiger talk continued to swirl around TPC at Avenel yesterday, with the possible participation of golf's resident phenom defining the Kemper Open's annual media day.
"We have not heard from him yet, but we're still hopeful," said the event's general chairman, Pete Cleaves, when asked about Woods' present commitment status.
The 26-year-old Woods, who has never played in the Kemper Open, has until May 24 at 5 p.m. to commit to the tournament, which will take place May 30 through June 2 at the Potomac club.
"I've been trying to find out from other tournaments if he has commited earlier than that infamous 5 p.m. deadline on Friday the week before," Cleaves said. "He might not, but what if the phones around here all go out at 5 p.m.? What happens then?"
Even defending champion Frank Lickliter, who will definitely be among the 156 competitors in the field, admitted Tiger's presence gives any tournament the feel of a major.
"He just brings a certain electricity," said Lickliter, who last year became the 12th player to notch his first PGA Tour victory at the Kemper Open. "Anytime Tiger plays, the tournament is the better for it. For him to come to this tournament would be huge, because of what he's accomplished in the game the last several years. The fans get really excited to see him play, and that's what it's all about."
Woods, who is in Heidelberg, Germany, to defend his title at the Deutsch Bank-SAP Open, could not be reached for comment. And his agents at IMG did not return phone calls yesterday afternoon.
Even without Woods, this year's event features a compelling field which includes past champions Greg Norman, Fred Couples and Justin Leonard and two-time Masters winner Jose Maria Olazabal. Some minor adjustments have been made to teeboxes at Nos. 6, 8, 9 and 13. But for the most part, the 7,005-yard, par-71 layout will confront the field with the same strenous driving conditions and heavy rough that have come to define the event.
"I think what stands out about this course is the premium it places on accuracy off the tee," Lickliter said. "That's certainly one of my strengths, so I'm looking forward to getting back out there."
Perhaps a return to Avenel will jump-start Lickliter's game. The 32-year-old compounded a slow start to the season by tearing the membrane between the bones of the first two fingers of his left hand at the Masters last month.
"I hit a 6-iron out of the fairway bunker on No.8 and caught the liner," said Lickliter with a grimace. "I'd say there was only three-quarters of an inch of sand on top of the liner in that spot. Nice, huh? Anyway, I'm back to about 90 percent with it, and I'm starting to play really well."
Lickliter posted his best round of the season (64) at the Byron Nelson last week en route to his first top-10 finish this season (tie for 8th) and can't wait to get back to Avenel.
"Just coming back here for the first time since I drove out that front gate as a winner gives me a flood of good feelings," Lickliter said. "It will always be a special place for me, and I think it would be spectacular to repeat."


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