First, the bad news: The men's side of the Southern Oregon Golf Tournament didn't fill up for the first time in history — and that's 79 years.

First, the bad news: The men's side of the Southern Oregon Golf Tournament didn't fill up for the first time in history — and that's 79 years.

Now the silver lining: Championship flights are full, the winners are back to defend and speed of play should be better than usual.

The tournament begins at Rogue Valley Country Club today and runs through Labor Day.

It has long been the largest single-site match-play event in the U.S., featuring men's, junior-senior men's, senior men's and women's divisions.

A full field would be 416 players, broken down as 144 in the men's division, 112 each in the junior-senior and senior men's and 48 in the women's.

The senior men's was the only division that filled, creating a total field of 360 players.

"It's very unusual," says Jim Wise, the RVCC head professional of 35 years, who was busily reformatting flights as last week ended. "It's not changing the championship flights at all, so that part will still be exciting."

Qualifying rounds are today for all local men and Wednesday for women and out-of-town entrants.

Match play begins on Thursday and runs through Monday, when championship matches in all flights are held.

The men's, junior-senior men's and women's finals are 36 holes. The senior men play 18.

Two players are in line to reach milestones.

A victory by Bob Harrell in the men's seniors would be his seventh and would tie him with Ed Godden for the all-time lead in the division.

Brooks Newsom has three men's victories, and another would tie him for second with Dick Hanen, who recorded his last triumph in 1947. Eddie Simmons holds the mark for most men's wins with six.

In addition to all the defending champions returning, so, too, are those they vanquished.

Mike Barry won the men's title over J.T. Compher; Alex Merkner downed Steve Wood in junior-seniors; Bob Maentz won the senior division over Harrell, ending a 43-year victory drought after he won the men's crown in 1964; and Linda Johnson topped Trina Rasmussen in the women's division.

Barry, the former North Medford High state champion, headlines the field, having participated last week in the U.S. Amateur. Should someone knock him off, they'll have a golf story to tell for years to come.

Barry dispatched Compher, then still a Phoenix High student, 8 and 7 last year.

"He definitely has a target on his back now," says Wise, whose son, Justin, caddied for Barry in the U.S. Amateur and would represent an intriguing potential match-play opponent.

Barry finished second to Kevin Klabunde by one stroke in the Rogue Valley Stroke Play Championships at Centennial Golf Club Sunday and admitted afterward there is some concern as he prepares to defend his title.

He rebounded from a sketchy front nine Sunday and made three birdies on the first five holes of the back side before his swing took a hiatus.

"I need to figure out some sort of a consistent swing," he said. "I have some work to do the next couple of days."

If he doesn't find it, there are others waiting to pounce.

"There's some competition out there," says Jim Wise. "There are three or four players whose names I didn't recognize who are scratch players. There are some players coming in. And anything can happen in match play."

In addition to local players, others to watch are Kyle Freeman, who played prep golf at North Medford; former Ashland High player Kyle Oldfield, Eugene standouts Nic and Chris Polski, Brian Leitgeb of Columbia Edgewater in Portland, J.C. Riter of Willamette Valley in Canby, Eric Grimberg of Portland Golf Club and John Warner of Reames in Klamath Falls.

Stephanie Johns of Ashland, who blistered the field in the stroke play event this past weekend, is the first player on the waiting list to get into the women's division.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com