Drive to Attract Top Stars Still a Hot Topic
But what seems to count more than who wins is who plays.
Maybe that's why the document generating the biggest buzz these days is a letter from IMG that smacks of appearance money and projects a sense of desperation among PGA Tour events to attract a good field.
The Bay Hill Invitational has no such problems.
It has a beloved tournament host in Arnold Palmer, a favorable spot on the schedule with The Players Championship and Masters around the corner, and Tiger Woods lives just down the street.
Woods, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen are not only playing in the same tournament, they'll be in the same group the first two rounds at Bay Hill.
Not every PGA Tour event is so fortunate.
That's one reason IMG sent a proposal to various sponsors aimed at beefing up the field.
The proposal includes a menu of players and their price range for a Monday outing the week of the tournament. There was no guarantee they would stick around for the tournament because that would constitute an appearance fee, which is not allowed on the PGA Tour. Instead, there was a pledge they would 'look favorably upon staying.'
It worked for the Ford Championship at Doral two weeks ago. It paid a reported $600,000 for the foursome of Goosen, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington to play golf with top customers. Sure enough, all found it in their best interests to tee it up three days later on the Blue Monster.
The push for a strong field is nothing new. Tournaments long have clamored for the big names of the era, whether it was Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Curtis Strange, Greg Norman, Fred Couples or Woods.
'Unfortunately, it's show business,' said Larry Thiel, tournament director at the International. 'We're driven by the marquee value of the players in the field.'
Appearance money in disguise is nothing new, either.
Some 20 years ago, sponsors used to meet with IMG to figure out which players would be invited to a corporate outing in Canada called the 'Chairman's Days.' Lo and behold, these players inevitably stuck around for the Canadian Open. And just last year, the 84 Lumber Classic offered six first-class seats on a charter to the World Golf Championship in Ireland for those who played in its tournament. The value was estimated at close to $50,000.
That must have looked like chump change compared to the menu IMG served up.
The rate was between $100,000 and $200,000 for players like Singh, Garcia, Goosen and Ernie Els. The price range was between $50,000 and $100,000 for the likes of David Duval, Mike Weir, Fred Couples and Jim Furyk.
But conspicuously missing was the one guy who sells tickets and spikes TV ratings.
Why wasn't he on the menu?
'Don't even go there,' Woods said Tuesday, sensing no way out of the impending question.
While Ford paid $600,000 for its star foursome, that money wouldn't even get Woods for nine holes. Woods commands about $3 million to play overseas, where appearance money is allowed. Industry insiders say he would get at least $1 million for a one-day corporate outing like the one at Doral.
That Woods can get that much money raises questions about what constitutes a strong field. It's hard to imagine the 'Ford Foursome' generated ticket sales. All they did was give the tournament strength in numbers.
Give tournament directors this choice: Only one of the top 10 in the world with that one being Woods, or eight of the top 10 without Woods?
Steve Wilmot of the MCI Heritage opted for eight out of 10, only because Harbourtown can't accommodate many more fans than it already gets. Thiel also would prefer eight of 10 at the International, but that's the purist in him.
The realistic side tells him differently.
'In this world today of satisfying sponsors and ad agencies, and with the return on investments that only can be measured by ratings, that in itself says to everybody, 'You better get Tiger in your field if you want to end up having ratings that are meaningful,'' Thiel said.
'Golf is all about Tiger. He's the engine that is driving television, and television is the engine that drives the tour.'
Woods doesn't find fault with Ford or any other tournament willing to shell out money for a good field, especially during his campaign for a shorter season.
'There are 48 events, and with the economy the way it is right now, the players aren't going to be playing 38 events,' Woods said. 'So it's tough to get all of the guys. And that's one way of getting the guys. You've seen what they did up in Nemacolin (84 Lumber Classic), down at Doral. They do perks, and that's one way of getting around it to make sure you get a quality field.'
The issue will be sorted out this weekend when tournament sponsors have their annual meeting at PGA Tour headquarters. Maybe then, the focus can return to some phenomenal golf being played this year, even at the tournaments that don't have the strongest fields.
Schauffele just fine being the underdog
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.
Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.
Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.
“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”
Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.
“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”
Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1
Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.
So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.
Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.
Jordan Spieth: 7/4
Xander Schauffele: 5/1
Kevin Kisner: 11/2
Tiger Woods: 14/1
Francesco Molinari: 14/1
Rory McIlroy: 14/1
Kevin Chappell: 20/1
Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1
Alex Noren: 25/1
Zach Johnson: 30/1
Justin Rose: 30/1
Matt Kuchar: 40/1
Webb Simpson: 50/1
Adam Scott: 80/1
Tony Finau: 80/1
Charley Hoffman: 100/1
Austin Cook: 100/1
Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.
For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.
By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.
But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.
As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.
“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”
Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.
As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.
But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.
After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.
“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”
But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.
Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.
“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.
There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.
Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par.
And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.
As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.
“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”
Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.
Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.
The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.
Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.
It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.
Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.
One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.
McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.
“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”
McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.
“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”