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Players Still Value Tour Championship

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The Tour Championship offers golfs most reduced field battling for one the sports biggest prizes. It is officially the season finale on the PGA Tour.
 
But its not the Super Bowl of golf.
 
With the addition of the three individual World Golf Championship events ' not to mention the four majors ' it would appear that the Tour Championship is just another lucrative event. In fact, its $5 million purse isnt even the biggest cash prize on the circuit (Players Championship - $6 million).
 
Four years ago, the Tour Championship was the only tournament with a $4 million purse. This year, 17 tournaments offered at least that much in prize money.
 
Yet, as 1996 Tour Championship winner Tom Lehman said, You cant measure a tournaments importance by its purse.
 
There are 29 players in this weeks field at the Champions Golf Club in Houston, TX ' 2000 champion Phil Mickelson pulled out of the event after the birth of his second daughter last week.
 
Most have been here before, and almost all have been around long enough to know the importance of this tournament, even by todays standards.
 
Its really one of the premiere events, said Hal Sutton. We all view it as a prestigious event ' always will view it as a prestigious event.
 
Sutton has an affinity for not only the Tour Championship, but also its location.
 
Sutton won this event in 1998 at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga. And earlier in the year, he captured the Shell Houston Open.
 
I love coming back here, Sutton said. I love Houston and I love this course.
 
When David Duval won this tournament here in 1997, there were no $1 million first-place paydays; though, he did cash a check for $720,000.
 
Over the past few years, golf has rapidly become saturated with big-money tournaments. Tournaments designed to increase exposure ' and wealth. Still, many of the players in the field dont believe that such events have diminished the value of the Tour Championship.
 
I dont think it takes anything away, said Duval. (This event) is a great celebration of a whole year.
 
If anything, it makes it more important, added Brad Faxon. 'The money title measures a players year, whether thats right or wrong. And this is the final tournament. It could determine Player of the Year or the money title. Its still a very big deal.
 
Of course, Tiger Woods has recently made such debates non-issues. Yet, Faxons words are correct. Being the years final event, the Tour Championship could carry a lot of collateral weight.
 
Thats one reason why players were infuriated when the tour decided to make the Tour Championship the seasons penultimate event in 1999, in favor of the new World Golf Championships ' American Express Championship.
 
1999 was also the last time the Tour Championship was held at the Champions Golf Club. Woods was the victor, finishing four shots clear of Davis Love III.
 
(The Tour Championship) is a big event. Its not a major, but its one of the biggest events we play all year, said Woods.
 
'I think the fact that you have the best players of the year here assembled, that generally makes it a little bit more special.'
 
This is the 15th playing of the tournament, and the fourth time it has been held here in Houston. Jodie Mudd beat Billy Mayfair in a playoff in 1990, the first time Champions hosted the event.
 
Champions was also the venue of five Houston Opens, the 1967 Ryder Cup (winner, United States), the 1969 U.S. Open (Orville Moody), the 1993 U.S. Amateur (John Harris) and the 1998 U.S. Womens Mid-Amateur (Virginia Derby-Grimes).
 
Of the players in this weeks field, Sergio Garcia, Joe Durant and Frank Lickliter are making their maiden appearances. And the event's magnitude isn't lost upon them.
 
For sure its one of our biggest events of the year, said Garcia, who won the MasterCard Colonial in Ft. Worth. It was one of my goals this year (to qualify for the tournament). Its great to be able to be here.
 
Kenny Perry earned the final qualifying spot. Perry, who last played this event in 1996, edged out Jesper Parnevik for 30th place on the money list by shooting a final-round 66 in last week's Buick Challenge.
 
The winner at Callaway Gardens, Chris DiMarco, is making his second consecutive appearance in the Tour Championship. He considers it a goal achieved.
 
'It's the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,' he said. 'It validates your year.
 
'I want to be a fixture in the top 30 (on the money list). It's one of my goals to make (this tournament) each year.'
 
Woods has played in this event ever since his rookie year of 1996. He currently leads the absentee Mickelson by over a $1 million on the 2001 money list. Even with the $900,000 first-place prize, no one can catch him in the earnings department. And thanks to his five victories ' which include the Masters Tournament, The Players Championship, Bay Hill, the Memorial Tournament and the WGC-NEC Invitational ' Woods has all but wrapped up his third straight PGA Tour Player of the Year Award.
 
Nonetheless, this is still a big week for Tiger, as it is for many; including David Toms.
 
Toms has already won three times this year and ranks third on the money list. And though the PGA champion will likely finish behind Woods in the Player of the Year voting ' regardless of a win this week ' Toms looks at this tournament as both the cap to a spectacular season, and a kick start to 2002.
 
Its always important for me to finish (the season) strong, said Toms. I feel it gives me a lot of confidence going into the upcoming year.
 
'It's a big event.'