Billy Mayfair has played at Doral every year since he was a rookie in 1989.
Ive always loved this place, Mayfair said. Youre coming off California, where youre used to wearing sweaters and turtlenecks. You come here and its 90 degrees and perfect greens.
But as he finished the Ford Championship at Doral, Mayfair could only wonder if his tradition would continue.
Doral will be home to a World Golf Championship next year, a limited field for only the top 50 in the world ranking and leading money-winners from six tours around the world. There were only 69 players at Harding Park last year, including Warren Abery, Neil Cheetham and Jyoti Randhawa.
If I dont play well the rest of the year, I might not be here, said Mayfair, who is No. 78 in the world. That probably was the most disappointing thing I saw on next years schedule.
Its the first time a regular PGA Tour stop has been converted into an elite tournament with a small field. La Costa Resort near San Diego hosted the Mercedes Championships until it got the Match Play Championship in 1999, but the Mercedes (winners only) has an even smaller field.
The PGA Tour has been going to Doral since 1962. Only two other courses'Augusta National and Pebble Beach'have had the same tournament longer without interruption.
Two-time Doral winner Steve Elkington has come to the Blue Monster every year since 1988, and he remembers seeing all the champions on the wall'Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd, Greg Norman, Tom Weiskopf, Lee Trevino.
I figured they played this course for a reason, and theyve played it well for a reason, Elkington said. Ive always like this tournament. I hope Im in the top 156 next year.
Elkington, who is No. 61 in the world, apparently confused it for a 156-man field in the late spring.
Isnt it top 156? Its top 50? he said.
He paused, then added, Theres not much we can do about it. I dont think theyll let you in a World Championship as a past champion.
Others who have never missed a year since 1989 are Bob Tway, Paul Azinger and John Huston. None are likely to be back next year unless they play well and get into the top 50 in the world or the top 30 on the PGA Tour money list.
I think its awful, Azinger said. You build a history, you build a tradition at a site, then change it all up. I think its a really sad day when an exempt player cant play at Doral.
HELP IS ON THE WAY
The Zurich Classic at New Orleans will be played in seven weeks, and help is on the way to the Big Easy. Steve Sarro, the superintendent at Vail Golf Club in Colorado, is leading a group of 30 golf course management professionals and students to help four golf courses recover from Hurricane Katrina.
They will be in the area all next week, working on bunkers, spraying herbicides and helping restore English Turn and three other courses'TPC of Louisiana, Audubon Golf Course and Brechtel Golf Course.
English Turn will host the Zurich Classic of New Orleans on April 27-30.
What is nice about this industry is we are used to helping each other out. We are all friends and want to help, Sarro said. Our peers have faced significant challenges. Labor is in short supply, so we saw this as a means to provide expertise in helping golf courses get back open.
Sarro said he was looking for a way to help, and figured manpower would be as effective as writing a check to the Red Cross. He is not sure how much they can do in one week having not seen the damage.
What we hope to accomplish is to instill hope in these guys, he said. We want to support them.
Tucson is regarded as merely an opposite field on the PGA Tour, only this year it turned into something a little more'a qualifier for a $5.5 million tournament at Doral.
The PGA Tour has a policy that anyone finishing in the top 10 is exempt for the following week as long as that tournament is not an invitational. So when six players not otherwise eligible for Doral finished in the top 10 at Tucson, Dorals tournament director was left scrambling.
We had five or six players that would have been in the tournament, but werent in the tournament, Eddie Carbone said. There seemed to be a lot more changes this year.
The start of the Florida swing usually is messy because players ranking out of Q-school and the Nationwide Tour are reshuffled depending on how they fared on the West Coast. Bubba Watson went from 38th to second in the pecking order, and would have gotten into Doral anyway.
The other top 10s from Tucson who got into Doral were Duffy Waldorf, David Branshaw, Cameron Beckman, Gabriel Hjertstedt, Charley Hoffman and Mark Wilson. Only two of them made the cut.
Thats a record for number of players coming out of one tournament into the next one, said Andy Pazder, vice president of competition for the PGA Tour. Usually its one or two, if any. But given the makeup of the field in Tucson, and the way the tournament finished up, we had that large number.
Hunter Mahan slipped all the way to fourth alternate, no chance of playing. He spent the rest of the week on the range when everyone else was on the course.
Ive never had this issue before, Mahan said. I was boarding a plane in Tucson and they told me I was going to be fourth alternate. It was a little odd.
Camilo Villegas, 24, was the youngest player to finish second to Tiger Woods since 19-year-old Sergio Garcia at the 99 PGA Championship. ... If anyone questions the support in Charlotte, consider ticket sales for the Wachovia Championship'a sellout on the first day for Saturday tickets, a sellout on the second day for Friday tickets, and a sellout the first week for Sunday tickets.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Tiger Woods has a larger lead over Vijay Singh in the world ranking than Annika Sorenstam has over Michelle Wie in the womens world ranking.
Its just a fancy name for a $10 million event.'Steve Elkington on the World Golf Championships.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.