International Missed More Than Just Tiger

By Associated PressFebruary 13, 2007, 5:00 pm
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -Tiger Woods did not show up at Pebble Beach. Attendance and other numbers used to measure success will be down this year, and tournament director Ollie Nutt won't have to look hard to place the blame.
The weather.
Woods hasn't been to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am since 2002, yet officials somehow have managed to hand out a trophy, pay out more than $5 million in prize money and still provide for their local charities.
Ditto for the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head, an idyllic locale that Woods hasn't been to since 1999 and probably won't return any time soon. Stanford Financial has taken over sponsorship in Memphis, even though there's a better chance of getting Elvis than Tiger. The world's No. 1 player hasn't been to the Honda Classic since he was a 17-year-old amateur.
In fact, Woods never has played nine longtime events on the PGA TOUR since turning pro, and all of them are still on the schedule.
Jack Vickers might call that a miracle.
The Denver oilman pulled the plug on his beloved International tournament, the one with the modified Stableford scoring system played on picturesque Castle Pines Golf Club, where he treated every guest like royalty except for those meddlesome thunderstorms.
The problem was the tour's price tag ($8 million) and no sponsor to pick up the tab for an event played around the Fourth of July. Vickers was quick to attribute the demise to Woods, the star attraction on the PGA TOUR who last played there in 1999.
``If he shows, everything changes,'' Vickers said. ``You've got a one-man show out there right now that is the big difference.''
He's right about the PGA TOUR being a one-man show.
Woods isn't simply driving golf, he's perhaps the most famous athlete in any sport worldwide. When he plays, crowds are crammed behind the ropes of every fairway, TV ratings spike and everyone goes home happy.
And when he doesn't?
``We'd love to have him,'' Nutt said at Pebble Beach. ``But it's been four years since he's been here, and our attendance is going up every year. This year with the weather, we'll be off a little bit. But last year we did 70 percent in advance sales, and that was even before we knew if he was coming. You can't build an event around any one person.''
Vickers never realized that.
Pebble Beach is a special place, a special tournament. Even without Woods, the crowd turns out - especially on Saturday - to see the antics of Bill Murray, to hear one-liners from George Lopez, to coo over Kevin Costner.
Vickers, however, believed the scenery was just as spectacular in the mountains, his course was good enough for a U.S. Open, and that his tournament was the best thing west of the Waffle House on Washington Road in Augusta.
He wanted Tiger.
He made excuses when Tiger didn't show up, usually blaming the PGA TOUR for his spot on the schedule, whether it was a week after the PGA Championship, a week before or even two weeks before.
Too bad Vickers never made as big of a stink over who he had, not who he didn't. Phil Mickelson played the International every year but one since 1992. Ernie Els only skipped in 2005 when he was on crutches. Sergio Garcia and Retief Goosen only missed one year, and that was when the PGA Championship was held a week later at a new site in Whistling Straits.
How many tournaments would love to have all those guys? Or any of them?
Not having Tiger didn't help the International, but the fact cannot be ignored that Woods plays only about 18 times a year - the same number as Jack Nicklaus at that stage in his career - and those tournaments he skips are still in business.
``Those weeks he doesn't play, we have a great tournament,'' PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem said, drinking from a half-full glass. He noted the two tournaments that raised the most charity money in the last 12 months were Phoenix and the Texas Open, ``and neither of them has seen Tiger lately.''
Kym Hougham understands how Vickers feels.
He's the tournament director of the Wachovia Championship, which in many ways has the same sizzle the International did two decades ago. Woods didn't show up at Quail Hollow last year because his father died, but Wachovia still got 11 of the top 13 players in the world. Hougham exaggerated only slightly when he said the talk around town was ``we should fold up the tournament and shut it down.''
But he also knows the other half lives.
Hougham spent six years as tournament director of the John Deere Classic, an also-ran on TOUR until it gave a sponsor's exemption to Woods when he turned pro in 1996. The tournament was a sellout. And when Woods took a one-shot lead into the final round, the hype was such that the national press left The Presidents Cup and flew to Moline, Ill.
Woods hasn't been back, but Hougham said his presence invigorated the tournament. It since has moved to TPC Deere Run, and while the field was never particularly strong, Hougham said ``it was the place to be in Quad Cities that week - it became an event.''
``If you're focusing on Tiger as the only person,'' he added, ``you're going to have some letdowns.''
That's how Nutt always has seen Pebble. Talk to the folks at Stanford Financial, and the enthusiasm they feel about the PGA TOUR in Memphis - with or without Woods - is contagious.
Vickers never figured that out.
His biggest mistake was turning down a spot in the FedExCup playoffs. Vickers didn't want to compete against football in Colorado, even though the Broncos don't open at home every year.
And it would have been a far better spot on the schedule than where the International is now.
Related Links:
  • International Off the 2007 TOUR Schedule
    Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • Getty Images

    Molinari hopes to inspire others as Rocca inspired him

    By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:43 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Francesco Molinari was 12 years old when Costantino Rocca came within a playoff of becoming Italy’s first major champion at the 1995 Open at St. Andrews.

    He remembers being inspired by Rocca’s play and motivated by the notion that he could one day be the player who would bring home his country’s first Grand Slam title. As he reflected on that moment late Sunday at Carnoustie it sunk in what his victory at The Open might mean.

    “To achieve something like this is on another level,” said Molinari, who closed with a final-round 69 for a two-stroke victory. “Hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Constantino in '95 coming so close. Hopefully, they will get as inspired as I was at the time, watching him vie for the claret jug.”

    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    Molinari had already made plenty of headlines this year back home in Italy with victories at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and the Quicken Loans National earlier this month on the PGA Tour.

    A major is sure to intensify that attention. How much attention, however, may be contingent on Sunday’s finish at the German Grand Prix.

    “It depends on if Ferrari won today. If they won, they'll probably get the headlines,” Molinari laughed. “But, no, obviously, it would be massive news. It was big news. The last round already was big news in Italy.”

    Molinari won’t have any competition for the front page on Monday; Ferrari didn’t win the German Grand Prix.

    Getty Images

    Schauffele on close call: Nothing but a positive

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:41 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Playing in a final group at a major for the first time, Xander Schauffele awkwardly splashed out of three pot bunkers, went out in 40 and still somehow had a chance to win at Carnoustie.

    Playing the 17th hole, tied with Francesco Molinari, Schauffele flared his approach shot into the right rough and couldn’t get up and down for par. He dropped one shot behind Molinari, and then two, after the Italian birdied the final hole.

    Just like that, Schauffele was doomed to a runner-up finish at The Open.

    “A little bit of disappointment,” he said. “Obviously when you don’t win, you’re disappointed. Hats off to Francesco. I looked up on 17 and saw he got to 8 under, which is just incredible golf and an incredible finish.”

    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    Schauffele did well to give himself a chance. The 24-year-old was in the final group with Spieth, but both youngsters fell off the pace after rocky starts. The Tour’s reigning Rookie of the Year birdied the 14th but couldn’t convert a 15-footer on the treacherous 16th that would have given him a one-shot cushion.

    “It’s going to go in the memory bank as a positive,” he said. “I had a chance to win a major championship. I was in the final group. I had to face a little bit of adversity early in the round, and I still gave myself a chance. Anyone can look at it however they want to, but I’m going to look at is as a positive moving forward and try to learn how to handle the situations a little better next time.”  

    Getty Images

    They came, they saw and Molinari conquered The Open

    By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:28 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – From a perch above the 17th tee, next to a three-story grandstand that may well be the tallest structure on the Angus coast, the 147th Open Championship unfolded with more twists and turns than a Russian novel.

    It was all there like a competitive kaleidoscope to behold. In quick order, Rory McIlroy’s title chances slipped away with a whimper, a par at the last some 100 yards to the left of the 17th tee. Tiger Woods, seemingly refreshed and reborn by the Scottish wind, missed his own birdie chance at the 16th hole, a half-court attempt near the buzzer for a player who is 0-for-the last decade in majors.

    Moments later, Kevin Kisner scrambled for an all-world par of his own at No. 16 and gazed up at the iconic leaderboard as he walked to the 17th tee box, his title chances still hanging in the balance a shot off the lead.

    Francesco Molinari was next, a textbook par save at No. 16 to go along with a collection of by-the-book holes that saw the Italian play his weekend rounds bogey-free. He also hit what may have been the most important drive of his life into what a Scot would call a proper wind at the 17th hole.

    Xander Schauffele, who was tied with Molinari at the time at 7 under par, anchored the action, missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 16th hole. Moments later the Italian calmly rolled in a 5-footer for birdie at the last to finish his week at 8 under par.

    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    All this unfolded over a frenzied final hour of play at Carnoustie, offering just a taste of what the other four-plus hours of play resembled.

    “I couldn't watch Xander play the last two holes, to be honest,” said Molinari, who became the first Italian to win a major. “That's why I went to the putting green, because I probably would have felt sick watching on TV,”

    Carnoustie may not be the fairest of the Open rotation courses, but it certainly delivers the dramatic goods regularly enough.

    Woods’ prediction earlier in the week that this Open Championship would come down to no fewer than 10 would-be champions seemed hyperbolic. It turns out he was being conservative with his estimate.

    All total, 11 players either held a share of the lead or moved to within a stroke of the top spot on a hectic Sunday. For three days Carnoustie gave, the old brute left exposed by little wind and even less rough. Earlier in the week, players talked of not being able to stop the ball on the dusty and dry links turf. But as the gusts built and the tension climbed on Sunday, stopping the bleeding became a bigger concern.

    If most majors are defined by two-way traffic, a potpourri of competitive fortunes to supercharge the narrative, this Open was driven in one direction and a cast of would-be champions with a single goal: hang on.

    A day that began with three players – including defending champion Jordan Spieth, Kisner and Schauffele – tied for the lead at 9 under, quickly devolved into a free-for-all.

    Kisner blinked first, playing his first three holes in 3 over par; followed by Spieth whose poor 3-wood bounded into a gorse bush at the sixth hole and led to an unplayable lie. It was a familiar scene that reminded observers of his unlikely bogey at Royal Birkdale’s 13th hole last year. But this time there was no practice tee to find refuge and his double-bogey 7 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.

    “I was trying to take the burn out of the equation by hitting 3-wood to carry it. It was unlucky. It went into the only bush that's over on the right side. If it misses it, I hit the green and have a birdie putt,” Spieth said.

    Schauffele’s struggles coincided with Spieth’s, with whom he played on Sunday, with a bogey at the sixth sandwiched between a bogey (No. 5) and a double bogey (No. 7).

    This opened the door to what the entire golf world has awaited, with Woods vaulting into the lead at 7 under par, the first time since the ’11 Masters he’d led at a major, and sending a low rumble across the course.

    Since Woods last won a major, that ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on one leg, Spieth and Schauffele, who Tiger spotted four strokes on Sunday, graduated from high school; McIlroy went from phenom to four-time major winner and Donald Trump was transformed from being a TV celebrity to the President of the United States.

    But the fairytale only lasted a few minutes with Woods playing Nos. 11 and 12 in 3 over par. They were the kind of mistakes the 14-time major champion didn’t make in his prime

    “A little ticked off at myself, for sure. I had a chance starting that back nine to do something, and I didn't do it,” said Woods, who finished tied for sixth but will have the consolation prize of moving into the top 50 in the world ranking to qualify for the last WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in two weeks.

    But as Woods faded, McIlroy made a familiar move, charging in an eagle putt at the par-5 14th hole to tie Molinari and Schauffele at 6 under par. The Northern Irishman would run out of holes, playing the final four in even par to finish tied for second, but the moment wasn’t lost on him.

    “It was great, just to be a part of it and hear the roars. Tiger being back in the mix. You know, everything,” McIlroy said. “There's a lot of big names up there. It was nice to be a part of it. For a while, I thought Tiger was going to win. My mindset was go and spoil the party here.”

    By the time the final groups reached Carnoustie’s finishing stretch it was a two-man party, with Molinari proving for the second time this month that boring golf can be effective.

    Although he’d won the European Tour’s flagship event in May, Molinari decided to add the Quicken Loans National to his schedule because of his precarious position on the FedExCup points list (122nd) – he won that, too. The week before the Open, he fulfilled his commitment to play the John Deere Classic, a requirement under the PGA Tour’s new strength of field rule, and finished second.

    Although his track record at The Open was nothing special – he’d posted just a single top-10 finish in his first 10 starts at the game’s oldest championship – his machine-like game was always going to be a perfect fit for a brown and bouncy links like Carnoustie and a topsy-turvy final round.

    “I told his caddie earlier this week, because I didn’t want to say it to [Molinari], I have a good feeling this week,” said Molinari’s swing coach Denis Pugh. “It was the perfect combination of clarity and confidence.”

    With the sun splashing against the baked-out fairways, Molinari emerged from the clubhouse, wide-eyed and a little dazed after what could only be described as a major melee, his no-nonsense, fairways-and-greens game the perfect tonic for an Open that defied clarity until the very end.

    Getty Images

    Spieth and Schauffele were put on the clock Sunday

    By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:13 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Contending in a major championship on what is largely considered the toughest major championship course can be hard enough, but as Jordan Spieth reached the 10th tee box, he was given another layer of anxiety.

    Spieth, who was playing with Xander Schauffele on Sunday at Carnoustie, was informed that his group had fallen behind and been put on the clock. On the next tee, he was given a “bad time” for taking too long to hit his drive.

    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    “I handled it OK, but looking back, you know, that was a turning point in the round,” said Spieth, who played Nos. 10 and 11 in even par and finished tied for ninth after a closing 76. “If you get 1 under on those two holes with a downwind par 5 left [No. 14], it's a different story.”

    Spieth, who began the day tied for the lead with Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under, had dropped out the top spot with a double bogey-7 at the sixth hole. He was tied for the lead when officials put his group on the clock.

    “I took over the allotted time on the tee on 11 to decide on 3-iron or 3-wood, but throughout the day, I think I played the fastest golf I've probably ever played while contending in a tournament,” he said.