Mile High Disappointment International Event No More

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DENVER -- The International is no longer on the PGA TOUR schedule because Tiger Woods and key corporate sponsors stayed away from the majestic mountain course at the foothills of the Rockies.
 
PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem and tournament officials spent the last two weeks in a final effort to find a corporate sponsor, but talks with two potential partners fell apart. The International has been without a title sponsor since 1999, and without any corporate sponsorship since 2003.
 
The tournament, known for its unique scoring system on a Castle Pines golf course in the mile-high air outside Denver, needed $8.5 million in sponsorships, and Jack Vickers, founder and president of Castle Pines Golf Club, said cutting corners simply wasn't an option.
 
'I'm either going to do it right or I'm not going to do it,' he said Thursday. So, he decided to withdraw from the TOUR 'rather than compromise our high standards or assume financial risk on behalf of our membership.'
 
Finchem said the stumbling blocks to sponsorship were plenty.
 
'We had a strong price point. We had declining ratings the last three or four years. We had questions about the date and the combination is what worked against us,' Finchem said. 'It wasn't any one thing.'
 
Yet the biggest factor was the absence of Woods, who hadn't played in the event since 1999.
 
'I'd have to say, yeah, if he shows, everything changes,' Vickers told The Associated Press. 'But I also know, in fairness to him, he can't be everywhere. He can't be everything to everybody.'
 
Vickers said he was unsuccessful in getting a commitment from Woods, who didn't come when the event was held in August because it was so close to the PGA Championship, and that prevented him from closing deals with companies he was courting.
 
'On the one hand, the TOUR's asking for a new five- or six-year commitment and you've got a one-man show out there right now that is the big difference,' Vickers said. 'And I've tried to get an expression, 'So let's be honest with each other. Just tell me, if it's no, it's no. But I'd like to know if out of six years, you'd play a couple years, even three years. I'd be happy as a lark.' But I can't get any commitment.
 
'That's his business and I'm not knocking that. That's his affair and I've got to live with that,' Vickers added. 'I had to go it alone, if something good happened, that's so much the better. But I've got to look at the bottom side because that's coming out of our pocket, and I was being asked to take all the risk.'
 
At a news conference, both Finchem and Vickers said they would try to bring the PGA TOUR back to the Denver area.
 
The cancellation leaves a hole in the PGA TOUR schedule on July 5-8, but tour officials have been working on a contingency plan the last month and are expected to announce a replacement by April.
 
The leading candidate is Washington, the largest U.S. market without a PGA TOUR event. The nation's capital had a tour event since 1968, but that presumably ended when title sponsor Booz Allen bailed out last year because it was not part of the FedExCup portion of the PGA TOUR schedule.
 
Other markets under consideration are Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Kansas City, Mo.
 
The International began in 1986 and used a modified Stableford scoring system, rewarding points for eagles and birdies and deducting points for bogeys or worse. It promoted aggressive play and featured some dramatic finishes, along with a roll call of champions that included Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson.
 
Woods played the event twice, the last time in 1999 when it was played a week after the PGA Championship, and that became an issue with Vickers. He often lamented the absence of golf's top draw, and he continued to ask the tour for different dates. It moved from a week after the PGA Championship to two weeks before the final major, then the week before the PGA.
 
It was given a summer date for 2007, but that didn't help the tournament secure a commitment from Woods, whose wife is due to give birth to their first child in July. Nor did the change help The International find a key sponsor.
 
The Fourth of July slot on the schedule had belonged to the Western Open, which now is part of the FedExCup. The new dates proved problematic for The International, however, because European players have the Scottish Open the previous week and the British Open two weeks later.
 
Last year, Vickers spurned the TOUR's offer to move his event to the end of the season and be part of the FedExCup 'playoffs' that begin in August two weeks after the PGA Championship. He said he doesn't regret that refusal because he still thinks it's a bad idea to go up against football in the fall in Colorado.
 
Rains also have dogged The International, and those weather delays led to a decline in TV ratings, further complicating efforts to find financing.
 
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