British and New Zealand Players Make a Strong Start in Twelfth Annual Sonoma-Cutrer World Singles Championshipby Bob Alman
After only one day of play in the six-day tourney, it's too soon to predict likely winners, but the results of the warm-up may provide some clues, as the English are the heavy favorites to win this year, with New Zealand the second favorites. There have been no big surprises, and strong players have emerged as leaders of each of the four blocks of seven - Aaron Westerby of New Zealand in the Blue Block, Debbie Cornelius of England in the Red Block (the only woman in the tournament), Tony Stephens of New Zealand in the Black Block, and California's Jerry Stark in the Yellow Block.
Block play in the tournament proper began Monday morning under cloudy skies which gradually turned to showers in the afternoon, but there was no serious rain, and the weather has now cleared and promises to be fair and warm for the rest of the week - perfect, in fact.
Perfection is a constant at Sonoma-Cutrer, where croquet - and the exacting standards by which it is played on two fabulous lawns in front of the winery - is a metaphor for the excellence of the Chardonnay wine which makes possible the most extravagant spectacle in the croquet world. The perfection extends to every aspect of this complex production, including the care and feeding of the players. They are comfortably housed in the Hotel la Rose in the old town of Santa Rosa, 12 miles from the winery, and they are lavishly wined, dined and entertained for the entire week. For the players who don't have rented cars, several vans and drivers are at their beck and call. It's no wonder that an invitation to play in this tournament is one of the most coveted in the sport - and each country sends their best available players, usually according to a rigidly prescribed selection process.
In this tournament, with each country sending their best and the players treated like royalty, there are no losers. But there definitely will be a winner, who will receive a $5,000 cash purse at the end of the tourney on Saturday (the runner-up gets $1000) - making the Sonoma-Cutrer World Singles Championship the biggest purse event of the year in America, and perhaps in the world.
Block play continues through Thursday. On Friday the Medalist Round is played (a round-robin among the four block winners) along with a single-elimination play-off of the twelve players ranked second, third, and fourth in their blocks.
BLOCK RESULTS FOR THE FIRST DAY
Thanks to John Taylor and Mike Orgill for making possible these daily report in CROQUET WORLD ONLINE MAGAZINE.
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