MELBOURNE, Australia – Tiger Woods returning to Australia for the third straight year is a fairly safe bet considering the Presidents Cup will be held in 2011 at Royal Melbourne.
The question is how many times he plays Down Under, and that depends largely on the schedule.
IMG runs the Australian Masters, which it has invigorated by strengthening the field and the sandbelt courses on which it is played. Organizers want the same date for next year, only they suddenly have competition.
With the Presidents Cup set for Nov. 17-20, whatever event is the week before might get several players from the U.S. and International teams.
“We would like this date. It’s critical to us,” said Mark Steinberg, head of IMG’s global golf division. “We feel like we took on the risk by moving to this date a few years ago, going up against some big events, and we made it successful. We feel we deserve to keep the date, now that it’s a coveted date for next year.”
A year ago, the Aussie Masters was held the same week as the Hong Kong tournament, and both were co-sanctioned by the European Tour. This year, it went up against the Singapore Open, a top European Tour event that featured three major champions this year.
The Australasia Tour is contemplating putting the Australian Open (played in Sydney) or the Australian PGA Championship (Coolum) a week before the Presidents Cup. If that’s the case, Woods almost certainly won’t be playing.
Woods would like to see the Masters the week before the Presidents Cup, especially since it will be played at Kingston Heath, voted the top course in Australia. It would be back-to-back weeks on the famed sandbelt.
“I think it would not only be a great tournament, but great preparation for all the American players to come down and play,” he said.
The Australasian Tour is to meet Dec. 8 and should decide then what tournament goes in that spot.
IMG is contemplating creating exemptions for all Presidents Cup players.
Woods received a $3 million appearance fee – half of that paid by the Victorian government – but in his first year, a government study showed the economic return was more than $30 million. Despite sloppy weather, and Woods in Australia no longer a novelty, crowds still were far larger than Australia usually gets.
Steinberg said IMG was willing to make a multiyear commitment to the date and consider raising the purse from $1.5 million.