- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Bob Estes knows the field he beat out to win last year’s Kemper Open was not one of the deepest you’ll ever see on the PGA Tour. Only one of the world’s top 20 players entered the event at TPC at Avenel, which certainly eased Estes’ path on his way to an 11-under 273 for the tournament.

The defending champion also knows it won’t be as easy to take home the trophy again this week at the Capital Open, both because of the better quality of competition he’ll face and the sheer difficulty of winning any PGA Tour event.

“You’ve heard it before, but any time you win on tour, it’s special,” Estes said. “I don’t know how many tournaments I’ve played in my 15-year career, but I’ve only won four times. So guys will tell you they’ll take them whenever they can get them.

“I’m certainly not going to apologize for winning last year.”

When the 37-year-old Estes teed off last year at Avenel, the only top-20 player among his competitors was Justin Leonard. When Estes tees off tomorrow, he’ll be one of seven such players in the field.

That’s just fine with the Texas native, currently ranked 18th in the world. He’d rather face a field that includes Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington than one that is devoid of the tour’s biggest names.

In fact, if Estes had his druthers, Tiger Woods would be in town this week.

“I like it when he’s here, because it almost gives the tournament a little more legitimacy, if you do win the tournament and beat Tiger,” he said. “[Otherwise] everyone’s going to say, ‘Well, you won, but Tiger wasn’t here.’ I’m always hoping that [the top-ranked players] play the schedule that I play. I’m certainly not scared of them. I want the chance to go head-to-head with them and beat them.”

Estes has gone head-to-head with golf’s best for more than a decade now, and he’s produced a solid career. In addition to his four career wins (one in 1994 and two in 2001 before last year’s Kemper), he has five career second-place finishes, 66 top-10s and 138 top-25s.

He’s earned more than $11million since turning pro in 1988 and has surpassed the $1million mark in four of the last five years (including the $1,178,544 he’s already won in 11 events this season).

Still, Estes goes mostly unrecognized on the tour, one of a host of solid-but-not-spectacular players who has yet to pull off a career-making victory.

It may only be a matter of time before his long-awaited breakthrough. He’s already made the cut in 10 of his 11 tournaments this year and has four top-10s, including a sixth-place tie at the star-studded Mercedes Championships in January.

He’s also on the cusp of making the President’s Cup team for the first time in his career.

“I’m not at the top of the ladder yet,” Estes said. “I do have a lot of areas I can still improve in. But my game is better, my equipment is better, I’m healthier and stronger, more so than this time last year. Golf’s just getting more fun, because I’m finally finding my game, the way I’m supposed to do things.”

Estes would like nothing more than to defend his title at the Capital Open this week, but he acknowledges the immense difficulty in pulling off such a feat. Only four players in tournament history have won multiple times, and only one has done it in consecutive years (Craig Stadler, 1981-82).

That’s just the nature of a sport in which a good player can produce an impressive 15-year career and only win a total of four tournaments.

“Sometimes, there are certain courses that you just play well all the time,” Estes said. “But for the most part, it just has to do with the state of your game that particular week. I can say coming in here that I am better than I was at this time last year. But it doesn’t mean I’m going to do as well. There are too many guys out there who are too good. And there’s so much luck in golf. That’s why it’s so hard to repeat.”

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