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World Golf Championships Still Growing

WOODSTOCK, Ga. (AP) -- Brad Faxon could be excused for not realizing he was in a $6 million tournament for the world's best players. The World Golf Championships logo adorned tee markers and caddie bibs, but the practice range was full of faces Faxon didn't recognize and names he couldn't pronounce.
Anyone ever hear of Jyoti Randhawa?
There was no mistaking the guy playing ahead of Faxon in the first round of the American Express Championship - Tiger Woods. But even then, the sparse gallery following the No. 1 player in the world caught him by surprise.
'It's the least amount of people he's probably ever had following him, besides in Hawaii,' Faxon said.
Not many people watch Scott Hoch, although that's not unusual for a guy who tied for 70th out of 72 players.
Still, the lack of buzz was obvious at the Capital City Club, a course somewhere north of Atlanta, not quite in Tennessee and best located by looking for the blimp.
'This has the atmosphere of a Tour Championship, which doesn't have much of an atmosphere,' Hoch said. 'It's a nice get-together, where you have four or five top guys battling it out and the rest of us are saying, 'Let's just pad the pocketbooks.''
The World Golf Championships were supposed to be more than that.
More often than not, they are.
Remember, the WGC is only five years old. That little invitational at Augusta National wasn't called the Masters until its sixth year, and a green jacket wasn't awarded until 10 years after that.
'From a stature standpoint, these should take a position right behind the major championships and The Players Championship, and we think that has happened,' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Sunday in the clubhouse, where he watched Woods win his seventh WGC title since the series began in 1999.
'The major objectives are being accomplished,' Finchem said. 'But in golf, you never have finished. There are ways they can be improved.'
There was no shortage of ideas last weeek.
Faxon suggested a permanent home for each WGC event, much like The Players Championship held at Sawgrass, and the Tour Championship locked in a long-term deal with East Lake.
Thomas Bjorn of Denmark said the United States should get two tournaments, Europe the other official-money WGC and the World Cup should move around the rest of the world.
Bjorn also wondered, as did other Europeans, what happened to the gallery.
Golf is a tough sell once the calendar reaches September. Atlanta is not the best market, and it didn't help that Georgia, Georgia Tech and the Atlanta Falcons were in town, or that the Braves returned home for a decisive playoff game with the Chicago Cubs.
'They're great events,' Bjorn said. 'But they need to put them in places where people will come and watch. It seems like any time you play over here, they're not very successful. Any time you have a World Golf Championship outside of America, they draw the biggest crowds.'
There's some truth to that, except for Firestone (NEC Invitational), which had 25 years of history behind it from the World Series of Golf.
The American Express Championship was a huge hit in Ireland, although it was positioned for phenomenal success in St. Louis before it was canceled because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The best WGC crowd of all was in Japan for the World Cup, and Argentina wasn't too far behind. Then again, how often do those places see the best players in the world?
Success at the Accenture Match Play Championship in La Costa depends on who's playing, especially with only one match that means anything on the final day. There were big crowds when Woods beat David Toms this year, and when Darren Clarke beat Woods in 2000.
Television ratings are not as good when the tournaments are played overseas, and neither is player attendance.
When the American Express was played in Spain (1999-2000), and the Match Play Championship went to Australia (2001), some wondered whether WGC really stood for 'Who's Gonna Come?'
'We've got to be real careful with where they're going,' Davis Love III said. 'Some places we've gone haven't had the sizzle they thought they would. I can understand that foreign guys say, 'Why don't we play them overseas?' Well, the money is coming from over here.'
No one argues about the money ($7 million next year) or the format (no cut, guaranteed money) or the concept (bringing together the best players in the world).
'Any time you get to play against the best players ... that's when it's the most challenging,' Woods said.
The World Golf Championships is not perfect, but give it time.
'The Presidents Cup is 10 years old. When does it mature?' Finchem said. 'The Players Championship is almost 30 years old. When does it fully mature? We're off to a great start. And we have a lot of work to do.'
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