The Hyundai Tournament of Champions has taken its lumps recently, and we're not talking about the weather mess. Critics say the event is more notable for who doesn't play than who does. Some believe it needs to change it's criteria, its spot on the calendar, its location. We asked our writers if the winners-only event needs a makeover.
By RYAN LAVNER
I understand the logic behind beefing up the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. After all, what kind of season opener doesn’t feature its four best players?
The NFL trots out its best matchup of Week 1 on Wednesday, four days early. MLB and the NBA always have star-studded opening days. But the year’s first event at Kapalua has never been defined by its field strength, nor should it. The winners-only Tournament of Champions – which next year will serve as the seventh event in the Tour’s wraparound schedule – is about the start of a new year, at a beautiful location, and optimism abounds. Why make it more complicated than that?
More money won’t get players to curtail their winter breaks. (The FedEx Cup and late-season money-grabs already provide ample opportunities for guys to pad their bank accounts.) Increasing the field size only dilutes the product. There’s no other suitable date. You could change the venue . . . but then, you know, the players wouldn’t have a no-cut, guaranteed-money start to their year on an island in Hawaii. That won’t fly.
Tiger, Phil and Rory may never start their seasons in Kapalua. That’s OK. Four days in paradise with a winners-only field competing on a unique and fun layout – sorry, but that product never gets old.
By REX HOGGARD
It’s not a format change that the Hyundai Tournament of Champions needs so much as it is a change of scenery.
With apologies to Maui and idyllic images of towering peaks and cobalt blue horizons, the TOC fell out of favor when Tiger Woods, who last played the opener in 2005, and Phil Mickelson, a Kapalua no-show since 2001, decided that early January qualified as the off-season.
For all the high-profile players who made the trip to this week’s TOC – a list that includes two of last year’s four major champions (Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson) as well as the 2012 FedEx Cup champion (Brandt Sndedeker) – it is the list of no-shows (Woods, Mickelson, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, No. 2 Luke Donald) that suggests it’s time for an extreme TOC makeover.
The Tour’s transition to a split-calendar schedule this fall is the perfect time for the circuit to redefine its opening day and give the game’s top players fewer reasons to say no.
It’s time to move the TOC back to the mainland, perhaps southern California – where it was played before moving to Kapalua in 1999 – and outside the holiday shadow and into a more accommodating date.
If the TOC isn’t going to be the true season opener, (that honor belongs to October’s Frys.com Open next season) make it a must-play stop with a venue and a date (say, February) that is impossible for golf’s top players to ignore.
By RANDALL MELL
No, there’s nothing wrong with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions’ concept or format. There’s nothing wrong with an event that rewards winners from the previous year. The problem is the tournament’s timing.
The PGA Tour’s schedule is strong, but there’s a weak spot, and it’s the season opener. The majors, the World Golf Championship events, The Players Championship and the FedEx Cup give the Tour strategically spaced big events throughout the year. There’s good pacing. What’s lacking is a big-bang start. The PGA Tour lacks a highly anticipated start like Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, something to excite golf fans about a new year’s beginning. The Hyundai Tournament of Champions isn’t it and never will be, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a worthy place for the event on the schedule.
The ideal big-bang start would come in late January, the week before the Super Bowl, with the NFL playoffs quiet. The ideal big-bang start would come with the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship as the first event of the year. Granted, with the new wrap-around schedule actually beginning in the fall, it wouldn’t really be a season opener, but it would feel like one with all the game’s biggest stars gathering for the new year’s first event. Slide the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to the week after.
By JASON SOBEL
For all its faults – the most elite players failing to show, an ultra-small field – I've always been a fan of the Hyundai event. There's something special about watching the season unfold in paradise (usually) while much of the country is snowed in.
But there's one aspect of the tournament that has always bugged me. With players only eligible who won the previous season, the no-cut, guaranteed-money event provides too much of an advantage for prior success.
Think about it: Such rewards are akin to letting a Major League Baseball team start the season with a 5-0 record simply because it made the playoffs in the previous year.
This situation is only going to be exacerbated next year, when the TOC will no longer serve as the season opener. It is going to be incredibly awkward when the PGA Tour already has tournament winners from the 2013-14 season, then has only winners from the 2013 season competing in a midseason cash-grab.
So what's the solution? I'm not sure there's a perfect one, but the Tour could do worse than to borrow from the LPGA. Throughout its season, the top three players at every tournament not already qualified receive exemptions into the season-ending Titleholders field. If nothing else, the PGA Tour could reward more players with a similar plan.