Classic Notes: Hodge ready for first pro Nationwide start - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Classic Notes: Hodge ready for first pro Nationwide start

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Former Moc Hodge excited about first pro Nationwide start
Playing in Chattanooga's annual Nationwide Tour stop is not new for Jonathan Hodge.

But being able to collect a check definitely will be.

The former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfer was a Monday qualifier for a spot in the field for this week's Children's Hospital Classic at Black Creek Club, marking his second start in the Scenic City event.

Hodge played in the Classic two years ago, but did so on a sponsor's exemption. This will be his first Nationwide start as a professional.

"I feel like I'm a little calmer this time around. I definitely won't be worrying about missing class every day like last time," said Hodge, who has spent the past two years playing in mini-tour events throughout the South. "I just feel like I have a lot more experience now, and in pro golf that's a big thing."

Hodge owns a few top-20 finishes in Hooters Tour events, but said playing his way into this week's event through qualifying definitely stands out as a high point in his pro career.

Now he's just hoping to make the most of the opportunity.

"I just want to learn as much as I can," Hodge said. "I'm just kind of keeping my expectations at zero and will just try to play as well as I can."

Defending champ Gardiner hoping for repeat performance
History is not on Scott Gardiner's side.

The defending Classic champ will try to do what no other Nationwide golfer has ever done in the tour's 22-year history: successfully defend a title.

"It's always great to get back here," said Gardiner, who will be playing in his seventh Classic. "It's a little extra special though this year coming back as the champ."

The Australian's victory in 2010 was the first of his Nationwide Tour career, but he hasn't been able to carry that momentum into 2011. Gardiner is currently 84th on the money list, and has just five top-25 finishes in 21 starts.

"I'd like to say it's been good things (since last year), but it's been slow," Gardiner said. "I've made quite a few cuts this year, but the finishes have been a bit lower than previous years.

"I took last week off because of a few injuries. I just wanted to be fresh coming here to try to give a good defense of the title."

Gardiner will tee off his first round at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday from the No. 10 tee.

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