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By John RegerPA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
AVONDALE, Louisiana (Ticker) When the Zurich Classic was heldin 2006, eight months after Hurricane Katrina, it was the firstprofessional sporting event in the city after the disaster.
Phil Mickelson showed up and donated money to relief efforts,Louisiana residents, Kelly Gibson and David Toms talked abouttheir efforts to recruit players for the event and some of thePGA Tour wives donated their time to help raze a house affectedby the hurricane.
The tournament seemed to have some momentum, but it was stalledby a troublesome spot on the PGA schedule, two weeks after theMasters. Many top players were taking time off after goingthrough the grind of a major championship and the event reallycould have used the missing star power.
With the date moved to two weeks before the tour''s first majorchampionship this year, it seems to have brought out morerecognizable names, though only two of the top 10 in theOfficial World Golf Rankings Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker are here.
Furyk has not played this event since 1998, but wanted to comeback after hearing the TPC Course had been improved.
"The first year they played here I think it met some mixedreviews from what I heard on the tour," Furyk said. "The changesguys started talking a little bit more positive. I heard somegood comments."
Furyk is also preparing for the Masters and planned on choosingbetween here and next week''s Houston Open to play. He chosehere.
"The players who have supported this event for years talk aboutthe people and the hospitality, the food and the way the golftournament is run," Furyk said. "They feel like this one used tostand out in a lot of people''s minds."
Zach Johnson, who is also returning to the tournament after along absence heard from Toms about the event.
"I know David Toms very well and he''s spoken very highly of it,"Johnson said. "The tournament director and all the guys thatare associated with the tournament obviously are going to toutit, but I trust them."
Toms had to withdraw from the event because of a lower backinjury that he hopes rest will have him ready by the Masters intwo weeks.
"This tournament means so much to me and I hate that I will notbe able to compete this year," Toms said. "It wouldn''t be fairto the great golf fans in New Orleans if I tried to tee it upand I wasn''t 100 percent healthy."
Mark Calcavecchia was one of the golfers who came out the yearafter Katrina and has played the last three years.
"I wanted to come back after the storm," Calcavecchia said. "Ijust had a blast here the last couple years."
Calcavecchia brought his wife and the two have enjoyed the city,which is a main draw for many of the players.
"My wife loves it here," Calcavecchia said. "She loves the foodand we just had a blast here the last couple years, so I''ll becoming back."
That is a sentiment tournament organizers are hoping they hearfrom more and more golfers.