Billy Joe Tolliver likes to tell people that he and Rick Rhoden have combined to win half of all the American Century Celebrity Golf Championships that have been played at Lake Tahoe the past 20 years.
The wisecracking, ex-NFL quarterback doesn’t always mention that only two of those trophies belong to him and the other eight to the former major league pitcher.
Rhoden will try to become the first celebrity to win three in a row when a field of 82 sports and entertainment stars tee off in the 54-hole tournament Friday at Edgewood Golf Course in Stateline.
“It’s like playing basketball with Michael Jordan,” Tolliver explained to reporters earlier this week. “Say I scored a free throw tonight. ‘Did he tell you about the time me and Jordan combined for 61?”’
As usual, the local sports books have made Rhoden the 9-5 favorite to claim the $100,000 winner’s check again to add to the more than $1.2 million he’s earned at Tahoe in his 18 years of play.
“First, I’ve seen $34 out of that money I won here. My wife got the rest,” Rhoden said. “It’s nice to be here and get away from 98-degree weather in Florida. Right now I’m just glad not to be there. It’s beautiful here,” he said.
Michael Jordan, Tony Romo, Charles Barkley, Jerry Rice, Ray Allen, Ray Romano, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Oscar de la Hoya, Brett Hull, Jason Kidd, Dale Jarrett, Dan Quayle and Digger Phelps and among the stars scheduled to play.
First-timers include NBA stars Stephen Curry and Chris Paul, Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould, Rascal Flats guitarist Joe Don Rooney, American Idol winner Taylor Hicks and pitcher John Smoltz, who is playing in a group with former teammate Greg Maddux.
For the first time, the tourney is running opposite the Reno-Tahoe Open, where the PGA Tour officials moved up its date about 45 miles away at Montreux Golf & Country Club.
Jordan, Romo and Allen tee off at Edgewood together at 10:10 a.m. on Friday in what longtime tourney spokesman Phil Weidinger said may be the “biggest marquee pairing we’ve ever had.”
“I don’t think anything else is comparable,” Weidinger said Thursday in a phone interview.
“Michael Jordan has traditionally drawn the largest galleries through the years but Tony Romo has attracted huge crowds the past three years,” added Mike Milthorpe, tournament director.
That trio tees off after an all-quarterback pairing of Aikman, Elway and Aaron Rogers, which follows three Cy Young winners in Smoltz, Maddux and Brett Saberhagen.
“Thank goodness we’ve got some baseball guys playing,” Rhoden said. “Smoltz I know is a good player. I think he can probably contend for this thing.”
“I think the only thing that might keep him back is I don’t know how much tournament golf he’s played. It’s a big difference. We’ll find out the first day. If he gets a lot of points the first day, I think he’s going to be a big factor, because he can hit the ball nine miles,” he said.
The tournament uses a modified Stableford scoring format that awards six points for eagle, three for birdie, one for par, zero for bogey and minus-two for double bogey or worse.
“Double bogey is the killer in this format,” said Rhoden, who won last year with 72 points and had one round that was the equivalent of a 5-under-par 67. “If you can keep yourself from getting double bogeys, you’ve got a good chance.”