The 2009 PGA Tour begins this week with a Mercedes Championship field that is without the top four ranked players in the world: Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington. In other words, the bonus tournament for winners from the previous year isn’t as glamorous used to be.
There was a time when free money (last place now about $65,000), a free room for a week at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua and the lure of treating the wife to Hawaii was enough to lure a multimillionaire golfer to the peace of Maui.
Attrition is due in part to the fact the Tour now has so many self-acclaimed important tournaments vying for players’ attention. Woods and Mickelson have skipped the season-opening event in recent years for different reasons. Now fellow heavyweights Harrington and Garcia join them.
In the light of this reality, something needs to be done to improve the Mercedes field (and other Hawaii events) and model for the sake of fans and sponsors. Lately the Mercedes field has been in the 30-32 range, minus a couple of superstars, and other Tour players have been brought in to fill out pro-am groups.
A change in eligibility would seem necessary. The field should be expanded, and thus enhanced, by including something like this: tournament winners from the past two years, Mercedes champions of the past five years and the five highest ranked players in the world not otherwise exempt.
The Tour has spent millions trying to improve its late-season schedule the last couple of years. Now the deteriorated start of the year in Hawaii needs the mending.