THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Graeme McDowell would love nothing more than to defend his title in the Chevron World Challenge, especially because of all it has done for him the last few years.
It might be too much to ask him to return – along with a lot of other European Tour members.
Because of the Presidents Cup going to Australia, everything on golf’s global calendar has been pushed back. The Presidents Cup will be the week before Thanksgiving, followed by the World Cup in China.
That means the Chevron World Challenge will be the same week as the Hong Kong Open, where Ian Poulter is the defending champion. So he won’t be back at Sherwood next year. “It’s disappointing,” Poulter said. “There’s only certain hours you can sit on a plane. Some guys are going to have to miss out.”
Being opposite Hong Kong isn’t even the worst of it.
The Dubai World Championship – the season finale on the European Tour – is the week AFTER the Chevron World Challenge. Anyone playing in California cannot make it to Dubai until late Tuesday afternoon. “And the pro-am is Tuesday,” Paul Casey said.
European Tour members in the Chevron field this year were McDowell, Poulter, Casey, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy. Martin Kaymer was supposed to be there until he withdrew.
Along with Chevron and Hong Kong, the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa will be that week (Dec. 1-4). That attracted Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. For those European Tour members not playing Hong Kong, it makes more sense for them to be in South Africa, which is only two time zones behind Dubai.
“It’s a disaster next year,” McDowell said. “I’m disappointed to see that. But it’s all about geography. “China, L.A., Dubai … it’s not ideal. I’m tired just thinking about it.”
Greg McLaughlin, the president of the Tiger Woods Foundation and tournament director at Chevron, doesn’t see a way out. When he first was made aware of the schedule, he considered moving Woods’ event. But there is no room earlier, and it’s pointless to go after Dubai and bump too close to Christmas.
One half-joking suggestion to McLaughlin was simply to remove “World” from the title for next year. His only solution is to take his lumps for one year, although having Woods in the field certainly won’t hurt interest or attendance.
Chevron and its 18-man field gets world ranking points because there is a set criteria (majors, world ranking). The two sponsor exemptions must be from the top 50 in the world. Depending on how the Americans fare next year, McLaughlin better hope he has enough players available.
“It’s not going to be the same field,” Donald said. “And if the Europeans keep going like this, it will be a weaker field.”
MIDDLE EAST SWING: The strongest part of the European Tour schedule is early in the year when it makes its “desert swing” through Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain and Dubai. Next year, it figures to get even stronger by adding some of the best Americans.
Phil Mickelson is playing in Abu Dhabi. Tiger Woods will be going to the Dubai Desert Classic.
And the real shocker: Steve Stricker is going to Qatar.
“I’ve never been over there,” Stricker said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
It is believed to be the first time in his career that Stricker has received appearance money. He will open next year with two weeks in Hawaii, take two weeks off before Qatar, return home and then defend at Riviera and head to the Match Play Championship.
“Instead of forcing myself to play in events I usually don’t play, I thought I would go over and work on my game,” Stricker said. “Kenny Perry went last year and said it was a great time. They get a good field. I think a couple of Americans are thinking about going over.”
Qatar is held opposite the Phoenix Open. Woods is going to Dubai, which is the same week as Pebble Beach.
TIM & RORY: Rory McIlroy was surprised to learn that despite fulfilling his PGA Tour obligations this year, by not taking up membership in 2011 he will only be able to play 10 tournaments. The Players Championship would not count toward that number if he chooses to play.
Even more peculiar was the conversation he said he had with Commissioner Tim Finchem over the weekend.
Finchem was at the Chevron World Challenge to announce the PGA Tour awards and meet with the players. By the sound of it, he said the kind of things he usually does – only it took on a funny meaning to McIlroy.
“I had a conversation with Tim yesterday (Saturday) and he said, ‘Is there anything we can do for you? We’re always happy to see you over here playing,”’ McIlroy said with a smile.
“I said, ‘Thank you very much,”’ he said with a laugh. “Look, I’m happy playing 10 or 11. I would like to play some events – I’d like to play Bay Hill, but it just doesn’t really work. Phoenix is one I would quite like to play.”
Instead, he will play the Honda Classic (between World Golf Championships), defend his title at Quail Hollow and play the Memorial. The other seven are majors and WGCs.
As for The Players Championship?
“Undecided,” McIlroy said.
There have been reports he doesn’t like the TPC Sawgrass, although McIlroy said it’s more about the schedule. He wants to play the World Match Play Championship and the BMW Championship at Wentworth, held in successive weeks after Sawgrass. Then it would mean coming back to America for the Memorial.
Throw in Quail Hollow, and it could mean five straight weeks with a trip across the Atlantic in between.
STAT OF THE WEEK: For the first time in at least 25 years, no one from last year’s Q-school class won a PGA Tour event. The tour only has Q-school records dating to 1985.
FINAL WORD: “I start thinking about Augusta when I drive down the driveway for the last time on the Sunday of the tournament.” – Geoff Ogilvy.