Despite criticism about the TPC at Avenel course and facility in recent weeks, Booz Allen Hamilton CEO Ralph Shrader expressed optimism yesterday when discussing his company's involvement in the PGA Tour's annual stop in the Washington area, the Booz Allen Classic.

"I couldn't be more pleased," said Shrader, whose company is in the first year of a three-year title sponsorship agreement worth approximately $7 million annually. "The buzz is just very positive."

Booz Allen Hamilton, a global consulting firm based in McLean, replaced FBR, which was the title sponsor for one year. Kemper Insurance sponsored the tournament from 1968 to 2002.

"We've counted on other people who know a lot about what they're doing, but we're a management consulting firm," Shrader said. "What we get paid to do is look at issues, problems and organizational questions and try to make things better. It's our natural penchant to want to get in and put our hands on things."

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem has reportedly acknowledged that the tournament has lost some appeal among players, a few of whom have complained about the course. This week's field lacked many big names -- a fact Shrader aims to change. He has had discussions with Finchem about the date of the tournament and the layout of TPC at Avenel.

"I am very much proactive about working with the PGA Tour about this tournament and about how we're going to make it more successful," Shrader said. "I've said [to the commissioner] we need favorable treatment on dates . . . and I want to then be able to make the kind of improvements in this golf course that golfers would want to come here. . . . We're having a very good dialogue. I'm very encouraged we're on the same page."

Shrader said he is committed to golf in Washington, but hinted his company's sponsorship might not be renewed if changes are not made.

"I've made it very clear that I do not want to preside over an average golf tournament," he said. "If something comes about where they don't make the changes here and the players still don't view this as a real destination and the date situation doesn't work out, then I'm in a real conflict. I've made it clear I will not make a long-term commitment to average or mediocre."

Barber Makes Cut and More

It was quite a week for Aaron Barber, a 31-year-old conditional member of the PGA Tour. He made his first cut of the year and recorded the second top-10 finish of his career, which earned him a spot in this week's Western Open in Chicago.

"It feels good," Barber said. "This was huge for me in a lot of ways."

Barber, who golf fans may remember played in the threesome with Annika Sorenstam at the 2003 Colonial, was a rookie on the tour last year. He finished 140th on the money list, which gave him conditional status. He has entered six events this year, but did not make a cut until this week. Barber shot 70-68-68-68 -- 274 to tie for ninth place.

"For the most part, I kept it in play," he said. "I made more putts than I normally make. I think that was the big difference. I made a lot of 15-foot to 20-foot putts."

Palmer's Undoing

Hole No. 16, which was the undoing of many golfers on Saturday, was Ryan Palmer's downfall in the final round. Palmer was a par away from the first top-10 finish of his career when he made double bogey.

Palmer, who started the day tied for 22nd, was at 4 under for the round going into the par-4 No. 16. He landed on the green in two shots, but needed four putts to close out the hole. Although he went on to birdie 17, the damage was done. He finished with a 3-under par 68. His total of 275 put him in 11th place and earned him $101,760. . . .

Charley Hoffman, who had to win a five-way playoff at the Monday qualifier in order to compete in this event, took home his first PGA Tour paycheck. Hoffman shot 69-70-71-72 -- 282 (51st place) and earned $11,296. Pete Jordan, another Monday qualifier, tied for 33rd at 280 and took home $23,280. Also tied for 33rd was Bill Haas, who made his professional debut this week.