Sir Charles: 'It's going to be like the British Open'

Updated: July 15, 2005, 9:53 PM ET
Associated Press

STATELINE, Nev. -- Charles Barkley hit his first drive 30 yards sideways over the gallery onto a picnic area patio. Bruce Smith nearly hit a boat on Lake Tahoe, and Chris Webber had to yell "Fore!" before he even got to the first tee when he hooked a driving range shot onto the 18th fairway.

Welcome to the 16th annual $500,000 American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, where six-time tourney winner Rick Rhoden has the first-round lead with a 5-under 67 and Webber and Barkley are battling over a $50,000 side bet on who will finish last.

"I'm not good enough to run away with it so it's going down to the wire," said Barkley, who recorded only one par with 13 double bogeys or worse Friday but was still a stroke ahead of Webber.

"It's going to be like the British Open. It's going to come down to the back nine on Sunday," Barkley said.

The current Philadelphia 76er challenged the former 76er to the wager in which the loser will pay to the winner's favorite charity. Local casino sports books were also taking action on the head-to-head competition, billing it as "The Philly Cheese Steak Special."

"My father and brother called me up and told me that Charles had said if he couldn't beat me he was going to quit golf," Webber said. "I actually set a record for the worst score. But this is all in fun -- two bad golfers trying to help charity."

Rhoden, who won the tournament in 2003 and was second last year, had seven birdies and two bogeys in the opening round of the 54-hole tourney that runs through Sunday at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

The former pitcher leads with 30 total points in the modified Stableford scoring system that awards six points for eagle, three for birdie, one for par, zero for bogey and minus two for double bogey or worse.

"I got off to a good start and birdied numbers two, three and four," said Rhoden, who played in the Senior U.S. Open two years ago and qualified for this year's Senior PGA Open.

"Golf is a funny thing. When you are playing well, it seems easy. When you're not playing well, it's hard," he said.

Ex-NFL quarterbacks Mark Rypien and Billy Joe Tolliver were tied for second with 28 points apiece, followed by Trent Dilfer, Chris Chandler and Grant Fuhr, each with 25 points.

"Last year I was leading on Sunday and I got my [butt] kicked," said Tolliver, who shot a 69 after his approach hit a pine tree and landed in the water on the par-5 finishing hole.

"My plan is to poison about five of those guys on the leaderboard," he said.

Barkley has minus 25 Stableford points to Webber's negative 27.

Either Rhoden or defending champ Dan Quinn has won the tournament each of the past four years and six of the past eight. Quinn also won in 2001 and 2002 but opened Friday with a 75 worth just 18 points.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press