STATELINE — Rick Rhoden, Mark Rypien and Billy Joe Tolliver are three of the most recognizable names in the 26-year history of the American Century Championship.
The trio has accounted for 14 of the previous 25 titles. Rhoden has won eight times, Tolliver four and Rypien twice.
When the star-studded tournament kicks off today at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, Tolliver is the early 7-2 favorite with Rypien at 5-1 and Rhoden at 7-1.
Tolliver joked about being named the favorite.
“Yeah, in my mind anyway,” the former quarterback said. “I’m the best pro-am player ever. I shoot nothing in the pro-am. We’re so busy, and it’s so hot where Rick and I live that you don’t get out and practice much.
“So you get here and you just hope you find it in the three days of the tournament. It just comes down to how many greens you can hit in a day, because it’s tough getting up and down here. You can go out there and hit 15 greens and walk away with three bogeys on the three (greens) you missed. The golf course is in good shape, and you just hope you have good speed all week; tap-ins.”
Jeremy Roenick and Rypien believe Tolliver should be the favorite because of his attitude.
“I think it’s Billy Joe because he really doesn’t give a s--- what happens out there and whether he goes out there and makes a putt or not, where I think most of us are always squeezing everything as tight as we can,” Roenick said. “He doesn’t care. So that’s why he makes them all.”
“Billy doesn’t play scared,” said Rypien, who won the tourney last year with an eagle-birdie-birdie finish after a two-hour rain delay. “That’s what I love about him. Good, bad and ugly can come of it, but he’s willing to take the risk and most of the time it works out well for him.”
Rypien, the first-ever ACC winner, was asked what the key would be for him this week.
“Well, play my game obviously,” Rypien said. “There are 20-25 guys that have a legitimate chance to compete. You just go out and play.
“Golf-wise sporadic a little bit. I’ve come here in search of not only finding peace and serenity, but also a golf game. You just gotta find a routine and some rhythm that will get you ready for Friday (today).”
Rhoden also admitted his game is up and down as well. He has a history of winning this event in odd years. Seven of his eight wins have been in odd-numbered years.
“My game is good for two weeks and then bad for two weeks,” he said earlier this week. “I kind of hope it’s good this week. I can play as good as I ever could, but I just don’t do it as often now. Hopefully I’ll have a good week. I feel good about my game.”
If you’re looking for another potential winner, look no further than Jeremy Roenick, who tied for second last year, and Chad Pfeifer, who made his ACC debut last year and finished fifth.
Roenick has six top-10 finishes in the last six years. He admits he has to wipe out years of disappointment in the event.
“I’m excited and hopefully I don’t have to take a nap here in the clubhouse and wait two hours (through a rain delay),” the former hockey star said. “That was an epic battle last year. It was fun to be in there.
“I make a bad bogey on 15, and then the skies fall in. Now we’re tied up. We’re coming out of a rain delay, and he goes eagle-birdie-birdie. How do you beat that?”
Tolliver points at Pfeifer as a guy to watch.
“He’s been playing a lot, and he’s a good player,” Tolliver said. “He was on the Web.com Tour last week, He didn’t play that great, but he’s playing a lot.”
Pfeifer, who led after the first round and was near the top after 36 holes, said he got caught up in the moment on the final day.
“The first two days I was having fun,” he said. “I started to put more pressure on myself the last day.
“I didn’t play my best (web.com event), but it was a great experience. I learned a lot from it and about myself.”