HOME, SWEET HOME: The Nationwide Tour kicks off the domestic portion of the 2009 schedule this week with a return trip to the Chitimacha Louisiana Open presented by Dynamic Industries near Lafayette, La. Le Triomphe Country Club will host the event for the 18th consecutive year. Only two courses on Tour have a longer-running stay -- Highland Springs Country Club (Price Cutter Charity Championship) and Hillcrest Country Club (Albertsons Boise Open).
With the PGA TOUR teeing it up in the limited-field Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Fla., this week, five members of last year's "THE 25" will return to the Nationwide Tour to keep their competitive edge. Leading money winner from 2008, Matt Bettencourt, leads the quartet in Lafayette, where he will be joined by Kris Blanks, Darron Stiles and Casey Wittenberg.
PLAYER NOTES: This week's field boasts five former champions, including 2008 winner Gavin Coles. Also in the field are past champions Paul Stankowski (1996), Joe Daley (1997), Paul Claxton (2001) and Ryan Hietala (2005), who was a resident of Lafayette and a member at Le Triomphe when he won four years ago. Hietala tied for fourth at the recent HSBC New Zealand PGA Championship in Christchurch.
First-time champions have dominated the tournament winners' circle over the years. Eleven of 17 past champions made this event their first victory on Tour, the last being Johnson Wagner in 2006.
Winning scores over the years have ranged from 12 under to 24 under, with Coles' 12-under total last year marking the second time in three years, and third overall, that the winning total was that low. The tournament record of 24 under was set by Steven Alker, a playoff winner over Mike Heinen, in 2002 and matched by champion Brett Wetterich the following year.
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Panama Digicel Championship winner Vance Veazey is the only 2009 tournament winner entered this week. Alistair Presnell, winner of the Moonah Classic, will not join the Tour until May. Alker, a past champion at Le Triomphe and winner of the HSBC New Zealand PGA Championship, has not transitioned yet from his home in England to his residence in Scottsdale, Ariz. Alex Prugh, winner of the Michael Hill New Zealand Open, is not in the field in order to attend his brother's wedding in Spokane, Wash.