Feb. 16, 2005 - Southern Arizona's professional men's golf tournament will tee off Feb. 24 and continue through Feb. 27 when the Chrysler Classic of Tucson arrives in the Northwest.

While the Tucson Rodeo rages in the southern end of town Feb. 19 through 27, the Northwest will swap its cowboy boots and 10-gallon hats for golf cleats and visors when the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort and Spa, 2727 W. Club Drive, hosts the 60 year-old tournament.

Sponsored by the Tucson Conquistadors, who took over staging the tournament in 1962, the Chrysler Classic is often referred to by old-time Tucsonans by its former name, the Tucson Open.

The Conquistadors use proceeds from the event to benefit 200 local youth sports programs ranging from paying tournament fees for individual teams to donating thousands of dollars to organizations such as the Special Olympics of Pima County.

The group hopes to raise a little more than $1 million during this year's PGA golf event. Other programs include the Boys and Girls Club and a new program, designed to introduce kids to golf called First Tee Youth Golf.

This year's tournament will feature a full field of 144 golfers and three pro-ams. Anywhere between 75,000 and 100,000 spectators are expected to swarm the course over the tournament's four days depending on the weather, said Pat Miller, Director of Golf at the Omni.

It may be a PGA-sponsored event, but golf's biggest names will not be making their way to Tucson for the tourney.

The same weekend, the top 64 golfers in the world, according to the World Golf Rankings, will head to La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., to compete in the World Golf Championships.

Golfers ranked in the top 64 aren't given a choice; they must play in the World Golf Championship, even if they wanted to play in the Tucson tournament.

Although the official field will not be set until the Feb. 21, several notable golfers have already confirmed their spot in this year's Tucson Open. Among them are past Master's Champion Jose Marie Olazabal, three-time tournament runner-up, Mark Calcavecchia and former Tucson Open champs, David Duval, Larry Mize and last year's winner, Heath Slocomb.

This year's field will feature the most former Tucson Open champions the tournament has seen in quite some time, said Miller.

The roster of past tournament winners reads like a grocery list of golf greats, including Arnold Palmer, 1967, Lee Trevino, 1969 and 1970, Tom Watson, 1978 and 1984, and Phil Mickelson. Mickelson won the tourney three times, in 1991, 1995 and 1996, and has done so as both an amateur and as a pro.

The Tucson tournament is considered by many as the perfect platform for launching a career on the PGA tour for young golfers. A win here guarantees a spot at the Mercedes Championship and a two year exemption on the PGA tour.

"This tournament can kick-start a career," said Miller. "It is a tournament where there could be first time winner. Heath Slocum, it completely changed his life."

This year's purse of $3 million will be the same as last years, with $540,000 going to the winner.

Pro-Am play will begin Feb. 20 with the Arizona Diamondbacks/Chicago White Sox Pro Am. Each team will feature a PGA tour player, a Diamondback or White Sox player and three amateurs.

The next day, Feb. 21, the Omni will host the Pacificare Pro-Am. The third and final Pro-Am will take place Feb. 23 with the Aquafina Pro Am. That tourney, featuring 40 teams, will serve as a pretrial test for the Tucson Open with fully functioning equipment and scoreboards.

Tickets are still available for all four events and can be purchased by calling the Conquistador offices, 571-0400, or in person on the day of the event. Parking will be available at nearby Pima Community College Northwest Campus, 7600 N. Shannon Road. A shuttle will be provided to the course.

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