The field for the 2012 Greater Cedar Rapids Open took a major step over the last few days when the latest entries were confirmed. A total of four former champions, led by defending champ Brock Mulder, will be on hand to battle for the $20,000 first-place prize in the 14th annual edition of the tournament, which begins Friday and runs through Sunday at Hunters Ridge Golf Course in Marion.
Mulder, the Waterloo native who now resides in Dallas, will be joined by 2010 winner Andy Winings, 2009 winner Sean McCarty, who is the head pro at Brown Deer Golf Course in Coralville, and 2007 champ Jason Beach of Los Alamitos, Calif. Those four alone have a few Top 10s between them at the GCRO as well.
When you treat them right the golfers come back. Eight of the top 11 finishers in last year's GCRO will return. Entries in the last several days included Chris Thompson of Lawrence, Kan., and Tom Bliefnick of Decatur, Ill. That pair tied for second last year in the rain-shortened 36-hole tournament, four strokes in back of Mulder, who shot a 15-under-par 129.
Thompson, who was tied for the 36-hole lead in the 2010 GCRO before faltering on Day 3, has three Top 20 finishes in four starts in the E-Golf Professional Golf Tour this year and has cashed over $8,600. In two starts on the Adams Golf Pro Tour Series, Thompson has two starts with one win and a third-place finish. His total winnings of $13,700 ranks him 11th on that Tour's current money list though most golfers have played between seven and 11 events.
Bliefnick, an Illinois State University product, finished second last year just two months after turning pro. He just tied for 20th in the Illinois Open. He struggled a little this past weekend in the Waterloo Open and did not make the cut.
Also back for another try at the crown is Connor McHenry of Jefferson City, Mo., who tied for fifth at 7-under par 137 last year. Marion's Bill Hoefle, defending Senior Division champ Greg Sweatt of Irmo, S.C., Eric Cole of Orlando, Fla. and Patrick Duffy of Appleton, Wis., were among those tied for seventh and all return to the $77,000 tournament.
Also back is 2011 Illinois Open champ Philip Arouca of Wilmette, Ill. Arouca went from finishing in a tie for 17th at the GCRO right to the 54-hole Illinois Open the next day. He finished in a tie for sixth in defending his title last week.
The GCRO also boasts three of the Top 10 money-winners on the National Professional Golf Tour, which is sponsored by Golfweek. That tour has taken off since starting up in 2009 with the current money leader boasting over $67,000 in winnings.
Rhein Gibson, a transplanted Australian who has lived in Edmond, Okla., for nine years trying to hone his game, ranks fifth on the NPTF money list with $51,827. He won the Brickyard Open in Indianapolis earlier this month, cashing a check for $21,000. A week later he finished second in the Player Invitational at the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu, Hawaii. The 26-year-old has four top 10 finishes on that tour and has made 11 of 12 cuts.
He also holds the provisional "world record" for a round of golf with a 55, shot in May. Just search the web and you'll find several articles.
Matt Miller of Bloomington, Ill., who tied for fourth at Waterloo, ranks eighth on the NPTF money list with just over $45,500 in winnings. He won the Firekeeper Tradition and $20,000 in May in Mayetta, Kan., and has four Top 10 finishes in 12 starts. Miller tied for 11th in the Illinois Open after finsihing third a year ago.
Greg O'Mahony, who has played in the last two GCROs, finishing second to Winings in 2010, ranks 10th on the money list with just over $42,000. O'Mahony, who we would call a friend of the GCRO, won the Southern California Classic in March and cashed $22,000. He also has four Top 10 finishes, placing third in the Great Lakes Open last month, and has made the cut in seven of 11 events.
Others on the NPTF that will tee it up at Hunters Ridge include Ryan Dillon of Phoenix, Ariz., who ranks 19th on the money list, James Vargas of Miami, Fla., who is 22nd, Brent Long of Carthage, Tenn., is 25th, Jonathon Krick of Peoria Heights, Ill., is at 46th, Bliefnick checks in at No. 56 and Rodney Hamblin is at No. 61.
The Brickyard tournament was one-stop shopping for Justin Hueber of Ft. Wayne, Ind., Winings and Chase Wright of Bloomington, Ind. All three entered that one NPTF event. Hueber finished third at the Brickyard and picked up $9,000, Winings was fourth and Wright and O'Mahony tied for sixth.
Add to all those Robby Ormand from Austin, Texas, who earlier this year won the $22,000 first-place prize in the Kandy Waters Classic on the NGA/Hooters Tour.
And, Ryan Blaum winning the Waterloo Open didn't hurt the GCRO field either. I'm thinking it should be quite a shootout.
Don Wojciechowski resides in the Hunters Ridge Golf Course community and plays the course on a regular basis. He's a former sports editor for a suburban Chicago daily newspaper and an avid golf fan.