Long Drive Championship favors Miller

Joe Miller of London is the favorite this year for the RE/MAX Long Drive Championship.

Joe Miller of London is the favorite this year for the RE/MAX Long Drive Championship.

Las Vegas – The Open Division finals of the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship will be held this evening, Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 6-8 p.m. PDT.

The event will be telecast live by the Golf Channel from the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

So much for the formal introduction. Now here’s the real deal -- the atmosphere, the conditions, the statistics, the cheat sheet for the showdown of the world’s longest hitters.

How far will they hit the ball? Forecasters are predicting a light breeze from right to left on the elevated hitting platform. This wind pattern is perfect for most long drivers, who prefer to draw the ball. Still, the grass is longer than usual for the world finals -- nearly an inch in height -- and roll will be minimized.

The general feeling is that 400 yards would be a monster drive.

In addition, the fairway, or grid, has an odd banana shape that may make some finalists uncomfortable. The grid is 52 yards wide, which sounds substantial but doesn’t appear that way when viewed from 350 yards away.

Who is favored? For a change, it’s not Jamie Sadlowski, who at 25 already has won two world titles. Sadlowski remains the best-known of the current contenders, but the favorite is Joe Miller of North London.

Miller, the 2010 world champion, is favored because of recent performances. In 2013, he has entered four events and won them all, including the World Match Play in Sweden and the European Tour Championship in Spain. In preliminary rounds of the RE/MAX World Long Drive, held in Mesquite, Nev., he averaged 432.83 yards in one six-drive set.

There is another reason to like Miller. He is an entertainer who is fond of talking to his golf ball. His behavior is very animated, and he loves to interact with the crowd. Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the finalists will hit drives from a launching pad erected in the middle of the bleachers, will promote showmanship more than any previous host site for the World Long Drive.

Sadlowski is not as outgoing as Miller. He is at times quiet and shy, and the 150,000-seat speedway can be unnerving.

There’s more. The pressure is expected to be intense, because this is now a winner-take-all events. Of the eight finalists, seven will go home with empty pockets and one will deposit a $250,000 check.

The scene Tuesday at the speedway was positively unreal. Picture this: Dozens and dozens of workers trying to erect fences and barriers while officials and long drivers were trying to figure out how to maneuver golf balls into a fairway sitting between the high-banked first turn of the race track on the right and pit row on the left.

Spectators and television viewers can expect to see plenty of balls land on these hard-surfaced roads and bounce toward the sky.

Perhaps the balls will share air space with fighter jets from Nellis Air Force Base, located next to the speedway. All day Tuesday the speedy planes zoomed and zipped overhead.

The net aura was that of a circus, or a carnival -- golfers invading a super speedway in pursuit of a quarter million dollar prize, balls bouncing willy-nilly around the track, jet pilots punctuating the blue sky with an assortment of sideways and upside-down maneuvers.

It was fascinating, and it was fun. And this was just the day before the meaningful competition.

The format is simple. All eight golfers will hit seven balls apiece, counting only their one longest drive that lands and finishes in the fairway. The top four finishers will advance, the bottom four are eliminated.

With four contestants remaining, the format switches to match play. The overall winner must capture two matches. In match play, each hitter has six balls, not seven. Once again, only the single longest drive is counted.

• • •

Here are the eight finalists and their average clubhead speeds and ball speeds (in miles per hour) from the preliminary rounds in Mesquite:

• Jamie Sadlowski, St. Paul, Alberta, Canada: 146/216;

• Joe Miller, North London, England: 146/214;

• Tim Burke, Orlando, Fla.: 142/214;

• Aaron Mansfield, Washington, Pa.: 142/211;

• Patrick Hopper, Columbia, S.C.: 142:209;

• Will Hogue, Collierville, Tenn.: 136/209;

• Matt Hanger, Anaheim, Calif.: 140/208;

• Tyler Kellett, Scottsdale, Ariz.: 135/205

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