Stephen Ames Stephen Ames defends title in Children's Miracle Network Classic presented by Wal-Mart

Stephen Ames admits that he loves the feel of returning to a tournament as the defending champion.

Ames will get to enjoy the experience for the third time in his PGA Tour career Thursday when he tees off in opening-round play of the Children's Miracle Network Classic presented by Wal-Mart. The $4.6 million event is being played on the par-72 Palm and Magnolia golf courses at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and will wrap up the Fall Series and the Tour season for 2008.

"Anytime you step up on the first tee and you're announced as the defending champion, it's warm-hearting because of the fact you know you won this event," Ames told reporters. "Can you imagine how Tiger [Woods] feels winning 65, 67 events? That's unbelievable, phenomenal."

Ames shot 17-under-par 271 to record last year's victory. It marked the start of a strong finish for the Canadian as he also won the LG Skins Game and carried that over into the start of 2008, placing third in the Mercedes-Benz Championship and tied for 10th in the Sony Open.

Ranked No. 27 on the PGA Tour money list, Ames had a solid stretch in early May as he finished fifth in the Players Championship and fourth in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. He's also performed well in the Fall Series, tying for fifth in the BMW Championship and tying for sixth in the Valero Texas Open.

Ames recalled that last year's win probably couldn't have come at a much better time.

"A lot of the things that we worked on all year kind of added onto that week, and we were heading in the right direction and some of the shots I was hitting or trying to hit were coming out, and it was just a matter of learning to play with the changes," Ames said. "That kind of solidified the fact that the changes that we were making were in the right direction."

This season, Ames has made the cut in 18 of 23 events, including 10 top-25 finishes and seven top-10 efforts. The Trinidad native has earned more than $2.2 million and climbed to No. 31 in the world golf rankings - his highest mark since being No. 19 when he won more than $3.3 million in 2004.

Ames hasn't played since missing the cut in the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open. Since then, he's taken two weeks completely away from golf and said he didn't begin practicing until this week.

Jeff Overton begins the season's final week holding down the final position in the top 125 on the money list. Overton has a lead of $37,737 over No. 126 Martin Laird, thanks in part to him coming back to place 18th in last week's Ginn sur Mer Classic after undergoing an appendectomy Oct. 21.

"Last week was tough, especially the first two days coming back from surgery, but come Sunday it felt a lot better," Overton told reporters. "I putted it well. I had back-to-back-to-back nines where I had 11, 12 and 11 putts, which was huge, and we're hitting it a little better, day by day, feeling a lot better."

Three players moved into the top 125 after last week's Ginn sur Mer Classic. Winner Ryan Palmer jumped from 143rd to 74th on the money list, while Vaughn Taylor tied for second, taking him from 129th to 100th. Overton finished tied for 18th to move up from 126th to 125th.

Boo Weekley, the winner of this year's Verizon Heritage, returns to the PGA Tour for the first time since playing for the winning U.S. team at the Ryder Cup Matches in Kentucky. Erik Compton, who has overcome two heart transplants to compete for a spot on the PGA Tour, accepted a sponsor's exemption to play in this week's field.

November 6, 2008

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