Fri, Aug 03, 2007 - Page 23 News List

Will MacKenzie back to defend Reno-Tahoe title

AP , RENO, NEVADA

Back to defend his title at the Reno-Tahoe Open, a lot has changed for Will MacKenzie since he claimed his first US golf tour victory last summer on the edge of the Sierra Nevada.

The rock-climbing, kayaking, surfer who once lived out of his van and sold Costa Rican hammocks door-to-door has a new car, a new condo in Florida and US$879,965 in earnings already this year.

"I'd never driven anything but a van or a truck, so now I've got a little sports car," MacKenzie said on Wednesday at Montreux Golf & Country Club, about a half-hour from Lake Tahoe.

Despite the bigger bank account, the 32-year-old US player sounds like the same character who shot an opening-round 63 en route to a 20-under-par 268 at Reno last August.

"It's nice to get out West again. I can already smell the sage," MacKenzie told reporters before his practice round on Wednesday afternoon. "It's a good vibe for me.

"It's amazing to have been fishing in West Palm Beach yesterday and be out here now in the mountains. My girlfriend and I will probably go to Lake Tahoe one day and freeze our rear ends off in the ... water."

Once a star on the junior circuit, MacKenzie burned out by age 14, hung up his clubs and spent nearly 10 years skiing and snowboarding in the West before returning to the game three years ago.

NOTORIOUS

Now he finds himself unusually comfortable with the notoriety that accompanied his breakthrough victory.

"I want to be known out here," he said. "Whether I have 10 fans or 10,000 fans, I love it. I love to see kids come up and say, `Willie Mac, what's up bud? Good playing.' Or, `You wanna go surfing?'

"The state of my game right now? I'm not too sure. I've got a major tweak in my neck," he said. "But I definitely have some goose bumps. I'd like to play well. I'm the defending champion."

MacKenzie became the fourth player in the nine-year-old Reno event to claim their first tour victory at the 6,832m Jack Nicklaus-designed course, where a US$3 million purse is at stake.

Vaughn Taylor last turned the trick in 2004 and became the only player so far to successfully defend the title the following year.

Most Reno winners don't return to defend because they qualify for the Wold Golf Championships at Akron, Ohio, where the top 84 players in the world are competing this week.

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