PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Most tournament directors go to extra lengths to accommodate players, from arranging courtesy cars to making dinner reservations to securing tickets for a sporting event or concert that week.
Not many have the challenge facing Steve Timms at the Houston Open.
The Final Four is coming to town.
“I’ve already had some inquiries about it when I’ve seen guys,” Timms said.
The NCAA basketball semifinals – one of the hottest tickets in sports – will be April 2, the Saturday afternoon of the Houston Open. Timms already has been negotiating for tickets with the Final Four’s local organizers, along with his title sponsor, Shell Oil.
It’s a little tougher than when the Rockets are at home.
“We’re starting to round up tickets,” Timms said. “It’s going to be a tough one because the game is sold out. It’s sold out before they know who the teams are. And you know what sports fanatics these guys are. They’re going to want to go. It’s going to be an interesting challenge. It’s going to be difficult to sort out who gets the tickets and who doesn’t.”
Having the Final Four in Houston isn’t all bad. Major companies who host clients during the basketball bonanza also are looking to entertain them elsewhere during the week, and Timms has noticed an increase in groups looking to do something at the Houston Open.
Timms isn’t the only tournament director with a big sporting event in town the week of the PGA Tour.
The NBA All-Star Game will be at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 20, about two hours after the final round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera. Tournament officials already have received plenty of requests for tickets.
Then again, the tournament director in L.A. is Jerry West, who has a little more pull.
“If they come in and play, we’ll do everything for them,” West said. “I’ve been able to secure tickets through contacts of mine, and help from the NBA, and a couple of other contacts were kind enough to donate a suite. So we’ve had opportunities available for them to go.”
TIGER’S PRO-AM: Tiger Woods didn’t realize until he returned to the PGA Tour this year that his poor season in 2010 caused him to lose his preferred crack-of-dawn tee times in the pro-am.
But it’s not as bad as it seems for Woods.
He was 68th on the money list last year, which is why he teed off at 11 a.m. at Torrey Pines. That has a large pro-am field with two courses, however. Woods won’t qualify for several pro-ams, but he’ll be a sponsor’s pick. And the picks typically get the third, sixth and ninth spots in the morning and afternoon groups.
Translation: Woods can expect to tee off in the third group.
It’s also worth noting that of the dozen tournaments he plays before the FedEx Cup playoffs begin, eight of those events don’t even have pro-ams. He probably would need to be a pro-am pick in three others (Bay Hill, Quail Hollow, Memorial). The one place he might tee off in the middle of the pack? The AT&T National, which he once hosted.
MATCH PLAY: This is the final week for players to get into the top 64 in the world ranking and qualifying for the Match Play Championship in Arizona, although some are taking the week off.
Lucas Glover at No. 65 isn’t at Pebble Beach, and is not likely to make the field. Toru Taniguchi at No. 64 isn’t playing, either. Also on the bubble are Thomas Bjorn (No. 60), past champion Henrik Stenson (No. 62) and Seung-yul Noh (No. 63). Sergio Garcia, a semifinalist a year ago, has fallen to No. 79 and would need at least a runner-up finish in Dubai to have a chance.
Phil Mickelson has not said if he will play. Francesco Molinari had said he would miss the Match Play because his wife was due with their first child, although she gave birth on Sunday to a boy and the Italian might end up going.
Among those who look to be safely inside the top 64 is Heath Slocum at No. 59. He never considered playing it safe in the world ranking by taking off Pebble Beach.
“I heard some guys say that for sure to be in, I should skip Pebble,” Slocum said. “I have no idea. Like I’ve said before, I’m going to play golf. And if these things fall into place, great. If not, I’ll stay home. But I’d like to get in. Match play is fun.”
Slocum doesn’t speak from recent experience.
He said the last time he was in match play was the 1995 U.S. Amateur Public Links. He never made it to match play in the U.S. Amateur, although it wasn’t strictly because of his golf.
He missed his tee time.
Slocum opened with a good qualifying round on the Valley Course at the TPC Sawgrass in 1994, and remembers needing only a decent round on the Stadium Course to get in the top 64.
“I had an 8 o’clock tee time, and I woke up at 7:52 a.m.,” he said. “I was sick to my stomach.”
DIVOTS: After missing three tournaments in January because of stitches in his finger, Geoff Ogilvy has added the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. The only other time he played was 10 years ago, when he missed the cut. … Lorena Ochoa is retired from the LPGA Tour, but not from golf. She will take play in the pro-am at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico on Feb. 23. … Jessica Korda, the 17-year-old who earned her LPGA Tour card at Q-school, received an exemption to the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. Korda turns 18 on the Sunday of the tournament. … Three of the five events on the PGA Tour have been decided by playoffs this year. … Patricia Cornett has been appointed U.S. captain of the 2012 Curtis Cup team. She played in the 1978 and 1988 matches. … Stephen Ross, former executive director of the Royal Canadian Golf Association, and two-time PGA Tour winner Richard Zokol have been elected to the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Mark Wilson has earned more money in three tournaments this year – $2,098,700 – than any of his previous eight years on the PGA Tour.
FINAL WORD: “If AT&T could pay guys to show up, what do you think this field would look like?” – Paul Goydos, on the appearance money paid at the Dubai Desert Classic, held the same week as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.