MELBOURNE, Australia – Tiger Woods returning to Australia for the third straight year is a fairly safe bet considering the Presidents Cup will be held in 2011 at Royal Melbourne.
The question is how many times he plays Down Under, and that depends largely on the schedule.
IMG runs the Australian Masters, which it has invigorated by strengthening the field and the sandbelt courses on which it is played. Organizers want the same date for next year, only they suddenly have competition.
With the Presidents Cup set for Nov. 17-20, whatever event is the week before might get several players from the U.S. and International teams.
“We would like this date. It’s critical to us,” said Mark Steinberg, head of IMG’s global golf division. “We feel like we took on the risk by moving to this date a few years ago, going up against some big events, and we made it successful. We feel we deserve to keep the date, now that it’s a coveted date for next year.”
A year ago, the Aussie Masters was held the same week as the Hong Kong tournament, and both were co-sanctioned by the European Tour. This year, it went up against the Singapore Open, a top European Tour event that featured three major champions this year.
The Australasia Tour is contemplating putting the Australian Open (played in Sydney) or the Australian PGA Championship (Coolum) a week before the Presidents Cup. If that’s the case, Woods almost certainly won’t be playing.
Woods would like to see the Masters the week before the Presidents Cup, especially since it will be played at Kingston Heath, voted the top course in Australia. It would be back-to-back weeks on the famed sandbelt.
“I think it would not only be a great tournament, but great preparation for all the American players to come down and play,” he said.
The Australasian Tour is to meet Dec. 8 and should decide then what tournament goes in that spot.
IMG is contemplating creating exemptions for all Presidents Cup players.
Woods received a $3 million appearance fee – half of that paid by the Victorian government – but in his first year, a government study showed the economic return was more than $30 million. Despite sloppy weather, and Woods in Australia no longer a novelty, crowds still were far larger than Australia usually gets.
Steinberg said IMG was willing to make a multiyear commitment to the date and consider raising the purse from $1.5 million.
DISNEY DOINGS: For all the complaints about overseas tournaments taking away from Disney, why would the tournament want to change what it had this year? An exciting finish not just for the event, but for the final spots on the money list.
The PGA Tour tracks the movement of the 125th spot on the money list each week, and historically it does not change by more than $25,000. But on the final day of the season, the one-week change was a whopping $63,649.
Troy Merritt at No. 121 should have been safe all along, but he nearly tumbled out of the top 125 – he made it on the number – because so many players outside the top 125 were in contention. That’s a rarity.
Five players from the top 10 on the leaderboard started the week outside the top 125. That enabled three of them – Roland Thatcher, Michael Connell and Mark Wilson – to secure their cards for next year.
MASTERS LOOKAHEAD: J.B. Holmes made an eagle on his 17th hole (the par-5 eighth) at Disney to put himself in position for a Masters invitational. Then came a bogey from the bunker on his last hole, and he was out.
Heath Slocum, who played his final six holes in 1-under par and made a 7-foot par save on his final hole, tied with Holmes at 6-under 282 and retained the 30th spot on the PGA Tour money list by $1,439 over Holmes. The top 30 players receive invitations to the Masters.
Perhaps it’s only fitting Slocum edge him out, since he won a tournament this year (McGladrey Classic at Sea Island).
Holmes’ only way to Augusta National now is top 50 in the world the week before the Masters – he’s at No. 65 now and will slide even further over the next month – or to win a tournament.
A LESSON IN SCHEDULING: One key to Lee Westwood’s success was cutting back on his schedule – finding the right balance that keeps him sharp competitively but still feeling fresh when he plays. It’s one reason he no longer takes up PGA Tour membership.
But when told that Ryo Ishikawa of Japan played 17 consecutive weeks last year, Westwood signaled his approval.
“I played 17 in a row in 1996, and I won my first European Tour event that last week at the Scandinavian Masters,” said Westwood, who was 23 at the time. “It just felt like the right thing to do.”
Westwood felt he was young enough that playing such a big schedule was not a burden.
“I think some young kids don’t play enough,” he said.
Tiger Woods played at least 26 events his first three full seasons (including unofficial events). He said he spoke with Ishikawa about his schedule after their exhibition in Japan a few weeks ago.
What amazed Woods was hearing Ishikawa tell them that he prefers to work on swing changes at tournaments, in competition, instead of solely on the range. That’s where a big schedule helps the Japanese star, who won Sunday for the third time this year.
SHANGHAI PRECEDENT: PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem is not ready to count the HSBC Champions as official money on the PGA Tour, even though it’s a World Golf Championship, because it comes so late in the year – a week before the season-ender at Disney.
But there is precedent.
When the WGCs began in 1999, the American Express in Spain was held the week after the Tour Championship and counted toward the money list. The idea was to give the PGA Tour two blockbuster weeks at the end to decide the money title.
A number of Americans decided not to go to Valderrama, and the money list was never affected because Tiger Woods won by millions. Even so, there were players in Spain who could have affected the rest of the money list.
“I think the money list is less important than it used to be,” Finchem said. “As I said, we don’t view it as a big deal. We just made the call on this one, and for this period of time, we’re not going to do it. I don’t know what to tell you except we’ll continue to look at it.”
DIVOTS: Stewart Cink finished at No. 52 on the PGA Tour money list, his first time out of the top 50 since 2002 and only the second time since his first full season on tour in 1997. … The Masters (11-under 277) is the only tournament where Tiger Woods finished double digits under par this year. … Steve Elkington and Joe Durant finished inside the top 125 on the money list despite starting the year with only past champions status. Elkington got in 22 tournaments and finished 99th, while Durant played 19 times and wound up 124th. … Robert Garrigus became the first player since John Daly in 1995 to lead the PGA Tour in driving distance and win a tournament in the same year.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Sean O’Hair is the only American in the top 50 who is not yet eligible for the Masters.
FINAL WORD: “That aura thing, it helped him play better, but it didn’t make anyone else play worse.” – Geoff Ogilvy, on Tiger Woods.