As weeks go, the PGA Tour had a very, very good one on the business side of things.
Now re-signing two title sponsors doesn’t often generate massive headlines, but this one-two punch (AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and Sony Open in Hawaii) within days was impressive.
For different reasons.
AT&T re-upping at the crown jewel of venues, Pebble Beach, was hardly a surprise. It has sponsored this February classic since 1986, tastefully and respectfully transitioning from the “Crosby Clambake” without losing any of the flavor. No one expected AT&T not to re-up, but to do so for 10 years? To lock up that tournament through 2024? That’s a statement with impact.
Yet some PGA Tour insiders might tell you that Sony re-upping through 2018 was every bit as big a coup, maybe more so. The Tour has set up shop every year since 1965 at Waialae CC, with Sony in the title sponsorship role since 1999 – and only AT&T, Honda, and Shell have longer sponsorship runs than that. So to keep a longstanding parter speaks to the health of the product, but what does so even more is this:
Both these tournaments are “non-Tiger” stops.
OK, so Woods has had a few stops at the Pebble Beach pro-am, but you’d best not be holding your breath for his next appearance in that one. And the Sony is one of those where he’s never teed it up. But like the Travelers, Shell, and Humana – just to name three sponsors who know they aren’t going to be graced by a Woods appearance – the Sony goes about things impressively and puts on a great show in the tightest of all quarters you’ll find on the PGA Tour schedule.
The two signings continued what’s been a positive trend on the business front for PGA Tour executives. The Tour is pretty much set through 2014 and one source categorized 2015 as “a quiet year,” indicating that the next wave of sponsorships that will need to be dealt with will be those ending in 2016.
With AT&T assuming sponsorship of the annual Byron Nelson in 2015, that will leave the Tiger Woods tournament in the Washington, D.C., area in need of support. PGA Tour officials have expressed confidence in filling that void.
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NOW, THE WAIT: When he withdrew from Mayakoba after opening with a 76, Scott Piercy drew to a close his lackluster start to the 2013-14 season. Playing four of the six tournaments, Piercy went for a MC, WD, T-63, and T-21, and when those results were factored in, his world ranking had dropped from 40th to 48th.
The big deal of that is a possible exemption into the Masters, with spots given to the top 50 in the world rankings at the end of 2013. Piercy is done playing, so he’ll be at the mercy of the numbers game the next few weeks.
Of those not qualified for the Masters, Nos. 43 (Peter Hanson), 44 (Thomas Bjorn), and 47 (Miguel Angel Jimenez) are playing in the World Cup where world-ranking points are available. So, too, is No. 52 Branden Grace. Toss in the fact that many of these names, including Nos. 49 Thongchai Jaidee, No. 50 Richard Sterne, and No. 55 Joost Luiten, have tournaments upcoming in South Africa (the Dunhill Championship and the Nedbank Challenge) or Hong Kong and a good amount of movement is possible that could effect Piercy.
No. 51 Bo Van Pelt is another whose fate is pretty much tied to whatever happens around him, since he, too, is done with world-ranking tournaments for this year. He played just twice in the first six weeks of the wrap-around season, finishing T-19 in Malaysia and T-21 in China.
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FREE-FALLING: If you said, “Hiroyuki Fujita,” give yourself a gold star.
The question being: Which top-50 player at the start of 2013 has taken the biggest fall this season? With Fujita having the dubious distinction of missing the cut in each of the four majors (as well as seven of his 18 starts in Japan), he presently sits at No. 136. That’s a tumble of 93 spots since he began the campaign at 43rd.
John Senden is next on the big fall list, having started the 2013 season 38th but sitting 120th. His dive of 82 spots is one more than K.J. Choi, who fell from 48th at the start of 2013 to 129th.
David Toms has fallen 61 spots – from 42nd to begin the year to 103rd.
Still, Toms at least doesn’t have to worry about a fall from the top 50 having cost him a Masters berth. Since he finished T-13 at Augusta last April, he’s exempt into this year’s tournament.
The same goes for a trio of names who have fallen out of the top 50 in the world order. Thorbjorn Olesen (58th), Tim Clark (66th), and John Huh (93rd) all finished inside the top 15 at last year’s Masters and thus win return trips for 2014.
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HAVE CLUBS, WILL TRAVEL: There was no room for them at the star-studded Tiger Woods pre-Christmas party – officially called the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge – but no worries. Gary Woodland and D.A. Points have passports and so they’ll tee it up in the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa Dec. 5-8.
Kevin Streelman and Peter Uihlein will be two other Americans in that field.
For Streelman, it will be the final stop of a three-week global adventure. He’s teeing it up this week in the World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, and that makes it convenient to hang around Down Under for next week’s Australian Open. Then it will be on to South Africa.
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OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Speaking of playing opportunities, no complaint from the David Duval corner. He’s teeing it up this week on a sponsor’s invite in the South African Open, his fourth start in six weeks.
Duval, who opened with a 74, had previously played in Las Vegas, Sea Island, and Mexico.
Then there’s the eclectic gathering out on the Monterey Peninsula for the annual Callaway Invitational. They use three courses – Pebble Beach, Spyglass, and Del Monte – and the list of entries includes Hall of Famers (Annika Sorenstam), former major winners (Lee Janzen, Rich Beem, Scott Simpson), current PGA Tour types (Scott Langley, Morgan Hoffman, Patrick Reed, Luke Guthrie, Brian Stuard, Willie McGirt), former PGA Tour guys (Billy Andrade, Skip Kendall), Champions Tour regulars (Joey Sindelar, John Cook, Mark Wiebe, Kirk Triplett), LPGA members (Jill McGill, Ryann O’Toole, Vicky Hurst, Blair O’Neal), and even those who hit it forever and ever (Jamie Sadlowski).
All in all, plenty of evidence that while the PGA Tour might be on hiatus, playing opportunities are seemingly open 24/7.