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Tough Copperhead draws praise; will it draw Tiger?

Warm, sunny weather is nice, and so are some of the perks, such as staying at a resort just steps from the first tee.

A $4.8-million purse also is an eye-opener, although anymore, purses on the PGA Tour are so big the players barely notice.

What really moves them, however, is a golf course, and judging by the reaction of the players in town for last week's Chrysler Championship, the Copperhead course at the Westin Innisbrook Resort might be the event's biggest selling point in the future.

Ernie Els referred to it as a "hidden gem" and this week said in a diary on his Web site that "the Copperhead course is a really good layout, certainly the best we play in Florida." Better than the highly regarded Stadium Course at the TPC-Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship and tour headquarters? That, indeed, is high praise.

Stewart Cink marveled at the "major championship conditions," and player after player lauded the difficult rough and tough greens.

No doubt there was some grumbling. There are players who don't like the combination of penal rough and hard greens. Others feel it's a better show when birdies are in abundance.

But with the money title, qualifying for the U.S. Open and Tour Championship and exempt status for next year on the line, a difficult test was in order. And that's what players got. Other than the major championships, only four other venues yielded a higher winning score in relation to par than Retief Goosen's 12-under total.

"We need to play more courses like this one," said Robert Gamez, who tied for 17th. "We play too many that you just bottom it out there and you can fly the ball at the flag and make a bunch of birdies. This isn't that way. This is a thinking golf course. You have to drive the ball in the fairway, hit good iron shots to get the ball close. You have to putt well."

For those disappointed that Tiger Woods did not make an appearance, perhaps there is some consolation. Woods is not a big fan of birdiefests.

"It doesn't really reward good ball-striking," he said. "It's just a putting contest. When you get a golf course like a U.S. Open where you have got to hit the golf ball, manage your game, think about where you are going, that's when it becomes more fun for me. That's when it becomes more of a chess match."

Perhaps the word will get back to him.

NICE PERK: In addition to the $864,000 he received for winning the tournament, Goosen was handed the keys to a new Chrysler Crossfire. Goosen, however, did not drive off with the car. He has a home in Orlando and can contact a Chrysler dealer there and pick out the color he wants. He'll have to pay taxes on the car, which retails for about $35,000.

EXEMPTION: Paul Azinger finished 169th on the money list and his exemption for winning the 1993 PGA Championship has expired. But he'll still have a place to play in 2004 and he'll use an exemption he only learned about a few weeks ago: a provision that gives an exemption to players on the last Ryder Cup team. Azinger had been prepared to use a one-time exemption for players among the top 25 all-time money winners.

TOUGH YEAR: Tom Watson, 54, played in just four events on the PGA Tour and earned $108,017. But that's still more than was won by David Duval, who finished 211th on the money list with $84,708. Duval, the 2001 British Open champion, made just four cuts in 20 events. Watson, meanwhile, led the money list on the Champions Tour, earning more than $1.8-million.

GOLF DISCOUNTS: The extremely popular Paradise Golf membership card has a competitor this year. The 4 Seasons Discount Golf Card, which is $69 if purchased before Nov. 30, offers savings at 22 area golf courses and is valid for a full year from the date it is bought. Play is unlimited at places such as Lansbrook, University of South Florida, Walden Lakes and the Golf Club of Cypress Creek, and rates are based on the month used and weekend play. For information, visit www.4seasonsgolfcard.com or call toll-free 1-800-530-4621.

Paradise Golf is offering its winter membership for play through April 30, 2004. The cost is $159 (less if eight or more join at the same time) with discounts of up to 50 percent off regular greens fees at 25 courses. Paradise offers a different list of courses, including the TPC of Tampa Bay, Lake Jovita, Bloomingdale, Westchase, Fox Hollow, World Woods and the Eagles. For information, visit www.paradise-golf.com or call toll-free 1-800-605-2582.

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