It didn't seem like an event Toms would play, especially with LSU playing at home that week.
Then again, 84 Lumber made an offer that was hard to turn down.
'The free flight,' Toms said.
And not just any flight.
In the most lucrative perk of the year, 84 Lumber has offered any player eligible for the American Express Championship a free, round-trip flight to Ireland on a customized 747 with only first-class seats. Not only that, players can bring their wife or girlfriend, caddie and three guests.
The offer is worth at least $40,000.
The only catch is players had to commit by Aug. 4. As long as they tee off in the first round on the upgraded Mystic Rock Course at Nemacolin in western Pennsylvania, they get the free flight.
The early commitment list includes Toms, Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, Kenny Perry, Charles Howell III and Brad Faxon, none of whom played the 84 Lumber Classic last year.
'I'll tell you how big of a deal it is,' Toms said. 'I'm missing the Mississippi State game so I can get a free flight.'
The free charter is the idea of former tournament director Eric Mehl, who has since taken over at Colonial but is still working both tournaments. He ran it by 84 Lumber chief Joe Hardy, who loved the idea.
'He wanted to make a statement about how serious he was,' Mehl said. 'He also wanted to offset our tour date situation. We could have easily had a Nationwide or Hooters tour field, being between the Ryder Cup and the American Express. We took a negative and turned it into a positive.'
British Open champion Todd Hamilton also is on the list, and the luxury flight allows him to get home for the Oklahoma-Texas game before returning to Europe for the World Match Play Championship in England.
'It's awesome,' Hamilton said. 'All the tournaments are in competition to get the best fields they can. We got cowboy boots at the Colonial, and an iPod at Doral. You're already playing for $5 million a week. They shouldn't have to do that.'
The PGA Tour approved the perk, and Mehl said it was not appearance money in disguise because it was available to a qualified list of players. Even Arjun Atwal, who got into Amex from the Japanese tour money list, is on the flight.
'They're doing everything they can to attract a good field,' said Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA Tour. 'And this is just a little more.'
RYDER CUP RESURGENCE
Justin Leonard failed to make the Ryder Cup team, but another past hero from the Ryder Cup is suddenly poised to make the European team.
Paul McGinley of Ireland, whose 8-foot par putt at The Belfry clinched the cup for Europe two years ago, surged into the 10th position with a a 69 on the final day at the PGA Championship and a tie for sixth.
The timing could not have been better. Because McGinley played on the '02 team - and the '04 European team won't be decided for two weeks - he was exempt to the $7 million NEC Invitational. The two players ahead of him in the standings, David Howell and Ian Poulter, are not at Firestone this week.
'I do have an advantage,' McGinley said. 'It's a window of opportunity for me to make some progress.'
Three years ago, the European tour decided to send the top 12 in the Ryder Cup standings to Firestone. This time, it will send the last Ryder Cup team.
That also gives one extra chance for Colin Montgomerie to avoid having to be a captain's pick.
Montgomerie and European captain Bernhard Langer played a practice round Tuesday.
The scenario to end Tiger Woods' reign atop the world ranking is more complicated than ever, and also closer than ever for Ernie Els and Vijay Singh.
Singh got to within .10 points after winning the PGA Championship, and he can get to No. 1 at the NEC Invitational by finishing ahead of Woods if both are in the top 10, or tying with Woods if they are outside the top 10.
For Els to return to No. 1, there are three scenarios:
- Els wins, and Woods does not finish second alone.
- Els is second, Woods does not finish in a two-way for fourth, and Singh is not in a two-way tie for third.
- Els is third, Woods finishes worse than 15 and Singh finishes worse than 19th.
Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els were the only players to finish in the top 10 in all four majors. Mickelson won the Masters, was second in the U.S. Open, third at the British Open and tied for sixth at the PGA. Els was second at the Masters and British Open, tied for ninth in the U.S. Open and tied for fourth at the PGA.
Tiger Woods was among 10 players to make the cut in all four majors. Along with Mickelson and Els, the others were K.J. Choi, Vijay Singh, Chris DiMarco, Charles Howell III, Steve Flesch, Shaun Micheel and Tiger Woods.
Nick Price and Retief Goosen had a chance to join them, but both withdrew from the PGA Championship.
On the other end of the spectrum was Thomas Bjorn and John Daly, who missed the cut in all three majors they played. Daly didn't qualify for the U.S. Open, while Bjorn withdrew from the PGA with an injury.
Dave Parker had a modest sports agency only a few years ago, representing quality players but none of the big stars. Now, Links Sports has the most Ryder Cup players - three - on the U.S. team. Parker represents David Toms, Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry. ... The Champions tour is moving to Seattle, starting next year with the Great Seattle Champions Classic. It will be played on the TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge, a Jack Nicklaus design with spectacular views of the mountains. ... The Byron Nelson Championship raised $6.09 million in net proceeds, the sixth straight year to raise at least $5 million. All proceeds benefit Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Centers.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Only one British Open champion over the last 10 years - Tiger Woods - will be represented on either the U.S. or European Ryder Cup team.
'I felt like I was on one of those reality shows.' - Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton, on having to decide who got left off the team.
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