PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Upon seeing the PGA Tour join other tours in trying to stake out a presence in Asia, one high-ranking tournament official said two years ago, “The Far East looks a lot like the Wild, Wild West.”
That appears to be the case with two tournaments next week.
The PGA Tour has its Asia Pacific Classic in Malaysia, which began last year with 25 top players from the FedEx Cup standings as part of a 40-man field playing for a $6 million purse. The winner gets $1 million. The field includes Brandt Snedeker, Lucas Glover, Brendan Steele and Jhonattan Vegas.
It’s up against a new tournament called the Shanghai Masters that IMG put together at Lake Malaren. It’s not sanctioned by a major tour, thus has no set criteria and will get no world ranking points. But it has put together a field that dwarfs Malaysia. And while it has a $5 million purse, it is offering $2 million to the winner, the richest first-place check in golf.
The 30-man field includes three major champions - Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy and Keegan Bradley - along with Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk, Geoff Ogilvy, Hunter Mahan, Anthony Kim, K.J. Choi, Louis Oosthuizen, Padraig Harrington, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Y.E. Yang. All are getting appearance money, and last place pays $25,000. John Daly and Colin Montgomerie also are in the field.
The PGA Tour - not to mention Malaysia title sponsor CIMB - is not happy about the new tournament, especially with 16 of its tour members involved. Because it is not a sanctioned event, the players do not need a conflicting-event release.
The HSBC Champions in Shanghai is the following week, adding to the appeal of the Shanghai Masters.
Chubby Chandler of International Sports Management said he expects the Shanghai Masters to be a European Tour-sanctioned event next year. If that’s the case, there must be an established criteria.
“It’s probably a similar event to Malaysia,” Chandler said.
It was a perfect fit for China, which is desperate to attract top players but still needs help - IMG, in this case - to run the tournament.
Chandler just returned from China after an exhibition in which McIlroy, Westwood and Poulter were part of a group that went to seven courses in seven cities over seven days to play a total of 18 holes, promoted as the best holes in China.
“We went to one city I had never heard of that had 32 million people,” Chandler said. “It was a fantastic experience. It was like an adventure. There is no recession in China, believe me. The middle class is growing. There’s a lot of people with a lot of money, but there’s a lot more with a little bit of money.”
That explains the interest in China, along with other parts of Asia. Chandler has predicted there would be more European Tour events in Asia than in Europe within five years. After his trip, he adjusted his forecast.
“It will be three years,” he said.
Next week is another example of a crowded schedule, and how competition is not just among players. Chandler said he expected the PGA Tour to be upset with the new tournament in Shanghai. But noting that the field included the likes of Mahan, Furyk and Bradley, he added, “I’m just glad it’s not my boys taking all the heat this time.”
CADDIE ADJUSTMENT: Tiger Woods has his third full-time caddie in Joe LaCava, and the idea was to break him in slowly. Woods said he told LaCava at the Frys.com Open that he wouldn’t ask him questions on club selection or reading putts. LaCava, who spent two decades working for Fred Couples, was to spend a week observing how Woods played.
It wasn’t long before Woods made an observation of his own.
“When it rained on Thursday, we had four towels in the bag,” Woods said. “I’ve never seen four towels in my golf bag. Well, Freddie doesn’t use gloves, so out of habit, he just had all these towels in the bag. I was like, ‘What the hell are you doing with all these towels?’ So I said, ‘We don’t need that many towels.”’
Woods has three more tournaments this year, and said LaCava will play more of a role each week.
ONE LAST TRY: David Duval was on the practice range at Sea Island late Wednesday afternoon when he said, “Last tournament of the year.” He is playing in Malaysia at the Asia Pacific Classic next week.
Friday morning, before his second round, he entered the season finale at Disney. Duval went on to miss the cut, falling to No. 152 on the PGA Tour money list.
Why change his mind?
“I thought I’ve just played too well for most of the year and there’s no reason to be in the position I’m in,” Duval said. “The only thing that will help me at Disney is winning the tournament. You can’t do that unless you’re trying, unless you’re there.”
CASEY FUTURE: A year after he finished a career-high eighth on the PGA Tour money list with over $3.6 million, Paul Casey failed to keep his PGA Tour card. He withdrew after two rounds of the McGladrey Classic with an illness and wound up No. 131 on the money list.
Casey was slowed much of the year with an injury to his right foot, which made it painful to shift his weight in his swing. He won the Volvo Champions in Bahrain early in the year, and after missing the FedEx Cup playoffs, won in Korea.
Losing his card shouldn’t hurt too much. Casey is still No. 22 in the world, meaning he should be in good shape for the four majors, the World Golf Championships and The Players Championship. He’ll get in some events on conditional status (No. 126-150 on the money list) and should have no trouble picking up exemptions as a former Ryder Cup player with such a high world ranking.
“The most important thing is to get that fixed,” he said, nodding to his foot, “and get back to playing the golf I know I’m capable of playing. It’s been such a strange season.”
DIVOTS: If anyone other than Luke Donald wins at Disney, then Webb Simpson will be the PGA of America player of the year. … The Tiger Woods Invitational last week at Pebble Beach raised more than $700,000 for his foundation’s college-access programs, including the Earl Woods Scholarship program named after his late father. … The Champions Tour is moving its season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in 2012 from Harding Park in San Francisco to the Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. … The Nationwide Tour is adding another even in South America, The Chile Classic will be played March 8-11 at Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago. … Bud Cauley played most of his golf in Jacksonville at Windsor Park, a public course. As a PGA Tour member, he will have access to the TPC network, including the TPC Sawgrass. Cauley said he already has been sneaking onto the back of the range at Sawgrass.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The last player to lose his lead atop the PGA Tour money list in the final tournament of the year was Phil Mickelson in 1996, when Tom Lehman won the Tour Championship to move past him.
FINAL WORD: “You can shoot your lowest score ever and still feel as though you could have done better.”- Robert Allenby, on why golf is so appealing.