Tour treading water worried about economy
It featured one of the best golf courses in Quail Hollow, which attracted Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and a host of other world-class players. The gallery was among the largest on Tour. Tournament officials couldnt print tickets fast enough.
For now, its a good thing they didnt print any at all.
The tournament that seemed to have it all, suddenly had no title sponsor.
The staff came to work Sept. 29 only to learn that bidding was under way between Citigroup and Wells Fargo to acquire the banking operations of Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia, which earlier this year signed a contract extension with the PGA Tour through 2014.
On Friday, federal antitrust regulators cleared Wells Fargos $11.7 billion acquisition of Wachovia Corp., capping a weeklong battle for the bank.
Tickets were within five days of being printed when we stopped the presses, tournament director Kym Hougham said.
It was a troubling development for a sport that relies heavily on corporate support, with 11 title sponsors and three presenting sponsors coming from the financial services industry, each paying anywhere from $6 million to $12 million a year.
The Charlotte tournament expects to continue, with the contract assumed by Wells Fargo. In a similar case this year, Hewlett-Packard acquired Electronic Data Systems and took over title sponsorship of the Byron Nelson Championship in Dallas.
We know the tournament will happen, Hougham said. Well still sell out the tournament, but it may be later than normal.
Likewise, golf might be off the hook in the short term. All of its tournaments have sponsorship deals through 2010, with some of the deals through 2012 and others, like Wachovia, signed through 2014.
Its the long term that concerns PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
We have a lot of customers and sponsors in economic sectors that are impacted negatively by the volatility in the economy, Finchem said. Thus far, we have not suffered any major damage. But clearly, if the instability were to continue for a sustained period of time, we will have real challenges.
Some tournaments already are feeling the effects of an economic downturn in the second tier of sponsorships.
The 2009 season starts in Hawaii with the Mercedes-Benz Championship at Kapalua, where tournament host Gary Planos said costs are up, revenue is flat and sponsorship sales have been weak. Then its off to Honolulu for the Sony Open, which already is feeling the pinch.
We had six to eight sponsors that went away abruptly, some who had been with us for years, tournament director Ray Stosik said. We thought they would continue, but the economy forced them to make drastic changes.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational at the end of March, which has MasterCard as a presenting sponsor through 2012, has three associate sponsors. One of them, which tournament director Scott Wellington declined to identify, had to pull out.
I firmly believe well come out of it, Wellington said. But well take a hit next year.
Then there are sports agents, who usually spend October and November trying to find new endorsement deals for their players or renewing the ones they have. In many cases, they are told to call back later.
This year feels a little like it did right after 9-11, said Rocky Hambric of Dallas-based Hambric Sports Management. Its not so much, Were not interested. Its more like, We dont really want to do anything right now. Deals weve been working on for six months that we thought wed be agreeing to in October, they want to see where the bottom is before they decide.
The future is even more muddled on the LPGA.
Two tournaments already were gone before the Wall Street meltdown ' the Fields Open in Hawaii and the Ginn Tribute in South Carolina, a sponsorship that leaned heavily on real estate. Ginn consolidated its two LPGA events to one outside Orlando, Fla.
SemGroup sponsored an event in Tulsa, Okla., but it filed for bankruptcy in the spring. Safeway, which sponsored tournaments in Phoenix and Portland, Ore., also consolidated and now has only the Portland event. The LPGA, which doesnt nearly have the financial strength of the PGA Tour, said it might have to run a Phoenix event with its own money.
About one-third of the LPGA sponsorship deals are up for renewal this year.
We are reasonably confident in next years schedule being similar to this years schedule in number of events and level of prize money, said Chris Higgs, senior vice president of tournament business affairs. Theres still a couple of things to be concluded.
Kapalua, the only resort to host the PGA Tour and LPGA, has no title sponsor its first year with the LPGA.
Its difficult right now, Planos, the tournament host, said. Its been difficult all year. We looked quite a bit, but the right partnership hasnt come about. Well sponsor it ourselves, showing the beauty of Kapalua. The best way of selling it is to show how well we run it.
Finchem said about 15 tournaments have sponsorship deals that expire next year. One of them is the Deutsche Bank Championship, one of the playoff events for the FedEx Cup. Even before the credit crisis, trouble was looming, and it was clear the tour caught a break with the structure of its contracts.
The good news is, the deals for four- to six-years are signed, said Seth Waugh, CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas. Im a little more optimistic that well get through this. But if the contracts were not signed, youd lose a lot of folks.
Finchem is equally optimistic that were going to dodge major bullets.
His tenure has been blessed by good timing. The first big TV contract was negotiated after 21-year-old Tiger Woods won the Masters. The second was finished in the summer of 2001, two months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Purses continued to rise with the creation of the FedEx Cup, which pays a $35 million bonus pool each year.
For now, trouble is in an area not so obvious to the casual observer.
Were getting pecked by lots of little things, as we always are in a recession, Finchem said. If this thing goes all the way through 09, and we start losing sponsors, it might be different.
Turnover in sponsorship is nothing new on the PGA Tour. Five years ago, a dozen tournaments had different title sponsors. Neal Pilson, a TV consultant and former president of CBS Sports, once said the health of the tour is best defined by the waiting list of title sponsors.
Its a short list at best right now.
The Tour could not find a replacement sponsor for the tournament in Atlanta, which lost its spot on the spring schedule to the Valero Texas Open next year. Tampa Bay was on the verge of going away until Transitions Optical stepped in.
Through it all, golf was without its biggest star for all but about three months. Woods had surgery on his knee twice this year, the last one after winning the U.S. Open in June. Even Woods doesnt know when he can return in 2009.
Him not playing and the economy taking a downturn, its a punch in the gut, said Greg McLaughlin, who runs the AT&T National and the unofficial Chevron World Challenge, both hosted by Woods.
For now, the real victim could be charity.
PGA Tour events crossed the $1 billion mark two years ago in charitable giving, its hallmark. How much a tournament raises for local charities depends largely on the secondary tiers of sponsorship ' sky boxes, corporate packages, pro-ams.
When you look at it, the appearance that all these events have title sponsors is accurate, McLaughlin said. Look underneath the covers and find out about secondary sponsors.
The Shell Houston Open not only is starting its renewal contracts with such sponsors, but officials are still recovering from Hurricane Ike. It has solid title sponsorship, but tournament director Steve Timms said every tournaments biggest concern is corporate hospitality. In tough economic times, discretionary money is the first to go.
The psychology of this thing is that even if business is doing OK, you should go ahead and cut back, Timms said. Weve just completed our budget process. Well keep it even with 08 numbers. Well be pleased if we get that, and that may be aggressive.
Prize money comes primarily from title sponsorship and TV contracts. The only sting players might feel ' particularly those outside of the top 50 ' are personal endorsements. Hambric said he was thrilled to get Justin Leonards deal with Nike renewed in August.
But he worries about the long term, like everyone else.
If we went into something like a depression, sports marketing is not going to be the last thing to go, Hambric said. For a lot of companies, it might be the first thing to go ' and the last thing to come back.
Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.
There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.
Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.
“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.
In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.
“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.
“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”
Woods does everything but win
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a proud man who spent the majority of his prime scoffing at silver linings and small victories, Tiger Woods needed little cajoling to look at the bright side Sunday at Carnoustie.
Sure, after taking the solo lead at The Open with nine holes to go, the first words out of Woods’ mouth were that he was “a little ticked off at myself” for squandering an opportunity to capture his 15th major title, and his first in more than a decade. And that immediate reaction was justified: In the stiffest winds of the week, he played his last eight holes in 2 over, missed low on a 6-footer on the final green and wound up in a tie for sixth, three shots behind his playing partner, Francesco Molinari.
“Today was a day,” Woods said, “that I had a great opportunity.”
But here’s where we take a deep breath.
Tiger Woods led the freakin’ Open Championship with nine holes to play.
Imagine typing those words three months ago. Six months ago. Nine months ago. Twelve months ago.
The scenario was improbable.
At this time last year, Woods was only a few months removed from a Hail Mary fusion surgery; from a humiliating DUI arrest in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his car, with five drugs in his system; from a month-long stay in a rehab clinic to manage his sleep medications.
Just last fall, he’d admitted that he didn’t know what the future held. Playing a major, let alone contending in one, seemed like a reasonable goal.
This year he’s showed signs of softening, of being kinder and gentler. He appeared more eager to engage with his peers. More appreciative of battling the game’s young stars inside the ropes. More likely to express his vulnerabilities. Now 42, he finally seemed at peace with accepting his role as an elder statesman.
One major, any major, would be the most meaningful title of his career, and he suggested this week that his best chance would come in an Open, where oldies-but-goodies Tom Watson (age 59) and Greg Norman (53) have nearly stolen the claret jug over the past decade.
But success at this Open, on the toughest links in the rota?
“Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?” he shrugged.
Many analysts howled at Woods’ ultra-conservative strategy across the early rounds here at big, brawny and brutish Carnoustie. He led the field in driving accuracy but routinely left himself 200-plus yards for his approach shots, relying heavily on some vintage iron play. Even par through 36 holes, he stepped on the gas Saturday, during the most benign day for scoring, carding a 66 to get within striking distance of the leaders.
Donning his traditional blood-red shirt Sunday, Woods needed only six holes to erase his five-shot deficit. Hearing the roars, watching WOODS rise on the yellow leaderboards, it was as though we’d been transported to the mid-2000s, to a time when he’d play solidly, not spectacularly, and watch as his lesser opponents crumbled. On the same ancient links that Ben Hogan took his lone Open title, in 1953, four years after having his legs crushed in a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus, Woods seemed on the verge of scripting his own incredible comeback.
Because Jordan Spieth was tumbling down the board, the beginning of a birdie-less 76.
Rory McIlroy was bogeying two of his first five holes.
Xander Schauffele was hacking his way through fescue.
Once Woods hit one of the shots of the championship on 10 – hoisting a 151-yard pitching wedge out of a fairway bunker, over a steep lip, over a burn, to 20 feet – the outcome seemed preordained.
“For a while,” McIlroy conceded, “I thought Tiger was going to win.”
So did Woods. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I needed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it so many different ways. It didn’t feel any different.”
But perhaps it’s no coincidence that once Woods took the lead for the first time, he frittered it away almost immediately. That’s what happened Saturday, when he shared the lead on the back nine and promptly made bogey. On Sunday, he drove into thick fescue on 11, then rocketed his second shot into the crowd, ricocheting off a fan’s shoulder, and then another’s iPhone, and settling in more hay. He was too cute with his flop shot, leaving it short of the green, and then missed an 8-footer for bogey. He followed it up on 12 with another misadventure in the rough, leading to a momentum-killing bogey. He’d never again pull closer than two shots.
“It will be interesting to see going forward, because this was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while,” McIlroy said. “Even though he’s won 14, you have to learn how to get back.”
Over the daunting closing stretch, Woods watched helplessly as Molinari, as reliable as the tide coming in off the North Sea, plodded his way to victory. With Woods’ hopes for a playoff already slim, Molinari feathered a wedge to 5 feet on the closing hole. Woods marched grim-faced to the bridge, never turning around to acknowledge his playing partner’s finishing blow. He waved his black cap and raised his mallet-style putter to a roaring crowd – knowledgeable fans who were appreciative not just of Woods making his first Open start since 2015, but actually coming close to winning the damn thing.
“Oh, it was a blast,” Woods would say afterward. “I need to try to keep it in perspective, because at the beginning of the year, if they’d have said you’re playing the Open Championship, I would have said I’d be very lucky to do that.”
Last weekend, Woods sat in a box at Wimbledon to watch Serena Williams contend for a 24th major title. Williams is one of the few athletes on the planet with whom Woods can relate – an aging, larger-than-life superstar who is fiercely competitive and adept at overcoming adversity. Woods is 15 months removed from a fourth back surgery on an already brittle body; Williams nearly secured the most prestigious championship in tennis less than a year after suffering serious complications during childbirth.
“She’ll probably call me and talk to me about it because you’ve got to put things in perspective,” Woods said. “I know that it’s going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I’m at now, I’m blessed.”
But Woods didn’t need to wait for that phone call to find some solace. Waiting for him afterward were his two kids, Sam, 11, and Charlie, 9, both of whom were either too young or not yet born when Tiger last won a major in 2008, when he was at the peak of his powers.
Choking up, Woods said, “I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you’re proud of your Pops for trying as hard as I did.' It’s pretty emotional, because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me, and how much it feels good to be back playing again.
“To me, it’s just so special to have them aware, because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them. The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. It’s such a great feeling.”
His media obligations done, Woods climbed up the elevated walkway, on his way to the back entrance of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel & Spa. He was surrounded by his usual entourage, but also two new, younger additions to his clan.
Sam adhered to the strict Sunday dress code, wearing a black tank top and red shorts. But Charlie’s attire may have been even more appropriate. On the day his dad nearly authored the greatest sports story ever, he chose a red Nike T-shirt with a bold message emblazoned on the front, in big, block letters:
LOVE THE HATERS.
After this unbelievable performance, after Tiger Woods nearly won The Open, are there really any left?
Molinari hopes to inspire others as Rocca inspired him
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.”
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.
Schauffele on close call: Nothing but a positive
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.”
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.”