Leonard is sportsbook favorite to win third-annual RTO

RENO - Justin Leonard questions how much the local sportsbooks know. Even at 10-1 odds to win the Reno-Tahoe Open, which makes him the odds-on favorite, Leonard still remains skeptical.

"I don't know how good these sportsbook are," said Leonard, the 1997 British Open winner. "I've never felt like I was the guy to beat any week. Being the favorite, it certainly doesn't matter to me. But I'm flattered and I do feel like I'm playing well."

Fortunately for the sportsbooks, they think highly of this year's University of Texas football team, which has swayed Leonard's opinion somewhat.

"I do know that my Longhorns are 5-1 to win the national championship this year, so maybe there is something to those guys," said Leonard, who was an All-American at Texas in 1993-94.

Leonard finished in a tie for 10th place last week at the PGA Championship, along with former University of Nevada, Reno golfer Kirk Triplett and 2001 British Open winner David Duval. But even with Leonard's strong showing at the PGA, it still wasn't enough to get Leonard on this year's Ryder Cup team, captained by Curtis Strange.

But it obviously impressed the odds makers.

"I'm disappointed, but I didn't expect to be one of the two guys," said Leonard about Strange's two captain picks, which he used on 2000 RTO champion Scott Verplank and Paul Azinger.

The top 10 players on the Ryder Cup points list automatically qualify for the 12-man team.

The 29-year old Leonard, who's currently ranked 33rd in the world golf rankings, was a Ryder Cup member in 1997 and '99. But as good as Leonard is, he's just one of several accomplished tour players that make up the best field in the brief three-year history of the RTO.

Mark O'Meara (40-1), Fred Couples (25-1), and Nick Faldo (45-1) are all previous major winners. And they're all here at Montreux Golf and Country Club. In all, there are 11 major championships that have been won amongst the 156-man field.

Two-time major champion John Daly, always a fan favorite, is listed as a 45-1 favorite. Frenchman Jean Van De Velde, who lost in a four-hole playoff to Verplank last year, is a 45-1 favorite.

"Oh, they think that highly of me," Van De Velde said.

Needless to say, the tournament is wide open. But one thing is for sure. Leonard is here to win a golf tournament. Not to sightsee.

"There won't be a whole lot of tourist stuff this week for me," Leonard said."You might find me at a gaming table somewhere in the city. But getting prepared to play, it takes up a lot of time."

What: 3rd annual Reno-Tahoe Open

Where: Montreux Golf and Country Club, Reno

When: Today thru Sunday

Who's in it: 156-man field, including John Daly, Mark O'Meara, Justin Leonard, Fred Couples, Nick Faldo

Tickets: $15 per day, $60 for all for day, Children 12 and under are free

More info: Call 322-3900 for ticket and parking information


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