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Star-studded field set for Big League Challenge

Any "home field" advantage in the Big League Golf Challenge later this week at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto probably belongs to Casey Weldon and Hal Lanier. But the star-studded field they'll compete against makes picking a winner far from a sure thing.

Lanier, a former San Francisco Giants infielder and Houston Astros manager who resides in Dunnellon, has honed his golfing skills on area courses since retiring from baseball. He finished ninth in the shootout last year.

Weldon, the former Florida State University star now playing pro football with the Tampa Bay Bucs, purchased a home at Black Diamond last year. He failed to qualify for the final round of the Big League Challenge last year, but hopes to be in the thick of the 10-man shootout that begins Saturday at 8:30 a.m.

A pro-am event for sponsors kicks off the Big League Challenge on Friday. Top scorers among current and retired professional athletes from baseball, football, hockey and basketball, along with several exempt players, will advance to the shootout on the spectacular Quarry holes the following day. This year, anyone buying a $20 parking pass at any SunBank location in Citrus County can watch the shootout. Money from the sale of those passes is earmarked for the American Cancer Society.

Defending shootout champion Dick Anderson, a former standout with the Miami Dolphins, holds one of the exemptions from qualifying. Others are held by University of Florida head football coach Steve Spurrier and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt.

Schmidt could be regarded as the early favorite this year. The Jupiter resident, who plays out of Admiral's Cove Golf Club and has a USGA handicap of 3, first picked up a 7-iron at age 7 and has twice played at Augusta National where the Masters is held in April.

But two-time tournament winner Jim "Mudcat" Grant and 1993 champion Len "Truck" Robinson are expected to have a say in the outcome. Ditto for Spurrier, who has yet to have his visor hit the ground in frustration in his prior appearances at the shootout. Spurrier wound up third in 1991 and took fourth last year after falling out of contention in a long-chip tiebreaker on the 16th green at Black Diamond.

Last year, Anderson showed how to "strike while the iron's hot" when he won the Celebrity Golf Association's 54-hole medal-play championship (and $75,000) at Lake Tahoe the week after taking the $25,000 top prize in the Big League Challenge.

Former pitcher Rick Rhoden is the leading money winner on the CGA Tour and added $5,000 to his bank account by finishing third in the Black Diamond Shootout a year ago. Rhoden's peers annually tab him as a pre-tournament favorite and that seems especially justified this time in light of his six-stroke victory Sunday in a Celebrity Golf Classic tournament at Oceanside, N.Y. Rhoden completed the three-day event at 8-under-par 208 for his third tour win of the year.

Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry made an impressive comeback and nearly won the $25,000 top prize in the shootout last year. He lost a chip-off to Anderson on the final hole and left with $10,000 as runner-up. Barry was the first player eliminated in the shootout in 1991 and 1993.

While no player from the National Hockey League has won the Big League Challenge in its first two years at Black Diamond, former Buffalo Sabres all-star Don Edwards took second in 1990 and 1992 when the event was held in the Orlando area. He returns in 1995 along with six other NHL members.

Chicago Blackhawks star Bernie Nicholls visits Black Diamond following a grueling NHL Stanley Cup playoff series against Detroit. Joe Kocur, a mainstay for the New York Rangers when they won the Stanley Cup last year, also will play in the Big League Challenge.

Brown in state tourney: Brooksville's Boyd Brown was among 120 players to compete over the weekend in the 77th annual State Amateur Championship at Sara Bay Country Club in Sarasota. He shot rounds of 72-78-73-78 for a 301 total.

Sarasota's Mark Leetzow won a thrilling seven-hole playoff with Ponte Vedra Beach's Mike Bodney for the championship after both men shot 284 in regulation.

Sweet & Simple tourney: The Seville Women's Golf League will present its annual Sweet & Simple Golf Tournament Aug. 17 at 8:30 a.m. (shotgun start). It is open to the first 120 women to register, and the $28 entry fee includes golf, prizes and lunch at the Holiday Inn.

The deadline to sign up is Aug. 10. For more information, contact Nancy Duckworth at (904) 688-6879 or Nancy Morton at (904) 688-9916.

Juniors washed out: The second scheduled North Suncoast Junior Golf Association event of the summer season also fell victim to the rain and was canceled Saturday. Pine Ridge is the site for the next tournament July 8. Juniors planning to play must register by July 5 at noon.

The second annual Marion Walker Parent and Child Scholarship Tournament will be conducted July 15 at 1 p.m. at Plantation Inn. Anyone wishing to play in it or sponsor a hole should contact Kevin Walsh at (904) 563-2986.

Citrus Cup Challenge: Citrus Hills went on the road Friday and posted a 6-4 win over Glen Lakes in the first of two matches in the on-going Citrus Cup Challenge series. The two clubs will meet again at Citrus Hills this Thursday for another two-person, best-ball match using 80 percent handicap. Those scores will be added to Friday's to determine a winner.

Match winners for Citrus Hills last week included Duke McKearney and John Schuttler, Kervin Ray and Bob Schulze, Lee Cooke and Bob Parrington, Guy Symons and Ray Jarzyna, and Phyllis Mills and Janet Bruce. Golfers halving their matches wereArt Avery and Ken Holland, and Nicki Ploof and Chris Jarzyna.

Glen Lakes got one point each from Ed Noe and Bill Alexander, Rich Pearson and Ed Rothman, and Al Anderson and Bob Kempa. Half-point winners were Bob Rice and John Wood, and Janet Daly and Priscilla Oriel.

Citrus Hills team captain McKearney said Chuck McNeight's "hired guns" of Twisted Oaks are waiting in the wings to meet the winner of the present match in the next Citrus Cup Challenge. Date for that match will be announced later.

Clinic rescheduled: A free clinic planned Saturday at County Line Driving Range and Golf Academy in Spring Hill was postponed because of rain. It's rescheduled for this Saturday from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

"All juniors are welcome," teaching pro Dale Jones said Monday. "This is a hands-on clinic where people participate themselves."

Jones joined the County Line staff two weeks ago after spending 1{ years at Timber Pines in a similar role as teaching pro.