NEW YORK, July 13 (Reuters) - While most golf fans are focused on this week’s British Open at Royal St. George’s, American Bill Lunde will have a cool $1 million on his mind at the PGA Tour’s Viking Classic in Madison County, Mississippi.
Lunde has led the tour’s unique 18-hole Kodak Challenge for the last 13 weeks and should he be at the top of the standings by the end of the season, he would earn the coveted $1 million bonus.
The Kodak Challenge, which began in 2009, combines some of the U.S. circuit’s most famous holes into a year-long event to give the players and golf fans extra interest late in the season.
“As the year progresses, people are more and more aware of it,” Lunde, 35, told reporters at Annandale Golf Club on Wednesday. “You are focused on that hole, and obviously you want to birdie it.
“It’s a million dollars. Everyone could use an extra million. I’m trying really hard, but it’s something that falls into place as the year progresses.”
The Viking Classic is the 22nd of 30 tournaments to host the Kodak Challenge in 2011. The player who posts the lowest score relative to par on 18 of the Challenge holes will receive the $1 million prize.
Going into this week’s event at Annandale, 26 players are within four strokes of Lunde, including his close friend and former University of Nevada-Las Vegas team mate Charley Hoffman who trails by just one shot.
“It’s kind of a constant rivalry,” Lunde said of his good-natured competition with Hoffman. “Everything we do is competitive from going to dinner — who is going to pay the bill? - to driving home — who is going to get home faster?
“That’s the way it’s always been. I could also say we don’t want to beat the other, so that will kind of help push it (the rivalry), see where we are in the end.”
Lunde, who won his first PGA Tour title at last year’s Turning Stone Resort Championship, was happy with his form ahead of Thursday’s opening round.
“I feel good,” he said after playing in Wednesday’s pro-am competition. “I played pretty well today. It’s just more of like you feel comfortable about going into the weekend instead of I’m not hooking my driver.”
With most of the game’s leading players in England for the year’s third major at Royal St. George’s, the field at the Viking Classic is relatively weak.
While former major winners Steve Elkington, Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel are competing, little-known Tommy Gainey, at 42nd, is the highest-ranked player on the 2011 PGA Tour’s money list at Annandale.
“It’s still a tournament and golf is a game where you can’t predict anything,” American Gainey said. “The worst player can beat the best player in this field this week. You never know.
“My goal is to win no matter if it’s the hardest field of the year or the weakest field of the year or whatever. It doesn’t matter. You still got to hit the golf shots, and you still have to make the putts.”
American Bill Haas, who triumphed by three shots at Annandale last year, is not defending his title as he is among those competing in this week’s British Open. (Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)