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Viking Classic festivities underway at Annandale

Tee it up

The PGA Tour’s Viking Classic tees off Thursday, and the field has gotten a little flashier.

Rory Sabbatini has committed to play at Annandale. Sabbatini, who has a habit of wearing garish belt buckles, made headlines last summer when he proclaimed Tiger Woods “as beatable as ever.” The South African’s bravado did nothing to improve his chances against Woods, who has beaten him head-to-head in every event they’ve played since Sabbatini’s assessment.

But it did put Sabbatini squarely in the spotlight, a standing he has embraced. Viking Classic tournament director Randy Watkins admires Sabbatini’s brash approach.

“He’s not chicken, that’s for sure,” Watkins said. “It’s a way to survive (on Tour) that I think is absolutely necessary.”

The deadline for players to withdraw from the Viking was last Friday. On Tuesday, Watkins said he expected “significant changes” to the Viking Field through additions. “(Monday) was a good day for us,” Watkins said, referring to Sabbatini’s jumping on board. “The field is till fluid through Friday, and I expect a lot to happen between now and then.”

Sabbatini, who has four PGA wins, joins 2001 PGA Championship winner David Toms, two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen and Chris DiMarco, who many golf observers consider among the best players to never win a major. Last year’s Viking champion, Chad Campbell, will not defend his title due to his selection to the U.S. Ryder Cup team that will compete against Europe at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., that same weekend.

Watkins said recently that ticket sales for the Viking are on pace with last year’s numbers, which is ahead of projections.

As for some of the preparations in hosting a field of some 140 players, their support personnel and spectators, the August weather had done its part to make things difficult. Rains associated with Tropical Storm Fay and Hurricane Gustav have deluged Central Mississippi, and it was not certain midway through last week what the area might receive from Hurricane Ike.

The logistical work is now on schedule, Watkins said.

“We’ve got all the tents up, where they will have the cooking demonstrations, all the hospitality stuff, that’s been caught up on,” Watkins said. “So from that standpoint things are going well. We have missed a lot of time, but we have made up some serious ground since then.”

PGA commissioner Tim Finchem will be at Annandale Wednesday.

“I look forward to returning to Madison, Miss., and Annandale Golf Club as the Viking Classic kicks off our Fall Series,” Finchem said last week. “I received many positive comments from our players and our staff on how Viking and Century Club Charities elevated this event to a new level in 2007, and I anticipate more of the same for this year.”

Solid pre-play lineup

Pre-tournament events start Monday, September 15, with a shotgun-start pro-am at 1 p.m., one of several pro-ams before players hit the course Thursday. Viking Range Corporation, the tournament’s title sponsor, will hold cooking demonstrations throughout the week and will feature celebrity chefs as instructors.

Also a part of the Viking is Birdies for Charity (BFC), which has raised more than $3 million for causes around the U.S. since it started in 2001. BFC will sell tickets at $100 each for a chance to win a full Viking kitchen. Proceeds will benefit Jackson’s Blair E. Batson Hospital. You can also visit the Mississippi Brain Injury Association’s website at www.msbia.org/help and make a pledge through BFC. Participants will be entered into drawings for Viking merchandise and a trip to Viking headquarters in Greenwood.

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

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