J.J. Henry knows calculating how far the ball travels at the higher elevation along the Sierra Nevada was one of the keys to his winning last year's Reno-Tahoe Open.
He got a greater appreciation for the altitude when his rental car broke down earlier this week on the narrow, winding mountain highway that travels over an 8,900-foot pass between Lake Tahoe and the Montreux Golf & Country Club.
"Unfortunately, the car clunked out on us right on the side of Mt. Rose," said Henry, who claimed his second career PGA victory at the 7,472-yard mountain course where the modified Stableford scoring system will be in place when tourney play begins Thursday.
"We could have picked a better place to break down," he told reporters. "It was kind of an adventurous hour and an a half on the side of Mt. Rose."
Tournament officials dispatched another car to pick up Henry and his friend near the entrance to the Mt. Rose ski resort.
"Nothing like rental car trouble at 8500 ft!" Henry tweeted his followers complete with a photo of his car and barren ski runs in the background. "Thanks @Reno_Tahoe_Open for coming to the rescue."
Davis Love III, Padraig Harrington, Stuart Appleby, David Toms, Ben Curtis, John Rollins, Rory Sabbatini, Ben Crane, Camilo Villegas, Chad Campbell, Carl Petterson, Rich Beem and Woody Austin are among others playing at Reno while the world's 73 best compete at the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio.
"It's a great golf course," Henry said. "A lot of risk-reward, reachable par 5s, drivable par 4s based on the tees and the wind direction. It's one of the most picturesque and one of the most exciting."
Exciting because of the scoring format adopted for the first time last year that puts a premium on eagles and birdies and makes a winner out of the man with the most points instead of the fewest strokes. Used for years at the International in Colorado, players are awarded 5 points for eagle, 2 for birdie, none for par, minus-1 for bogey and minus-3 for double bogey or worse.
Love, who is making his Reno debut, won the International in 1990 and 2003 when it was played at Castle Pines outside of Denver. He thinks long-ball hitters will have an advantage this week on the edge of the Sierra Nevada.
"I like playing at altitude and I like Stableford, obviously," Love said Wednesday before getting his first look at the course in a practice round.
" I've had some success at that in the past, so I'm excited about this week," said last year's Ryder Cup captain and winner of the 1997 PGA Championship. His 20 career victories are second only to Lanny Wadkins' 21 among those who've competed at Reno.
Love was on the players' board of directors when the tournament first approached the tour two years ago about the scoring change.
"My first reaction was, 'I want to play.' Obviously you'd rather be at Akron. But this is going to be a fun week for me," he said. His daughter told him she might have trouble following the scoreboard.
"Hopefully I can show her pluses are good and minuses are bad," Love said.
Henry said the key is to be aggressive. He had three eagles last year in claiming the $540,000 winner's check.
"All I think about is that a birdie and a bogey is better than two pars," he said. "You can pass 40 guys making an eagle on one hole."
Love agrees, but warned being too aggressive can prove costly.
"You want to make sure you've got a putt for par and it's not a putt for bogey. You don't want to make 'others,'" he said. But in many cases he said he's more likely to fire at pins from the fairway — "because a bogey is not going to kill you. Six birdies and six bogeys is better than six pars."
"That is why I think a lot of the long hitters did well at Castle Pines," he said, "because they make a lot of birdies but they also make a few bogeys so it balances out better for the bombers."