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Lefty backs Tiger
Host's narrow field irks some, but Mickelson has broader view.
By BOB HARIG
Published March 15, 2007
ORLANDO - Tiger Woods hopped into his courtesy car early Wednesday afternoon and confronted an everyman occurrence - a traffic jam. The tie-up outside the Bay Hill Club & Lodge was due, ironically, to a swarm of people spilling into the street, trying to get Phil Mickelson's autograph.
It had to be a bit jarring for the world's No. 1 golfer for several reasons, primarily because he's used to seeing Lefty in his rearview mirror.
Woods wisely refrained from laying on the horn, though little did he know only moments earlier, his longtime rival had sounded off in support.
Woods and Mickelson are in the same field for just the third time this year - and only the second in a stroke-play event - when the Arnold Palmer Invitational begins this morning at Bay Hill. The event has eight of the top-10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking, many of whom have their eye on the first major, the Masters, in three weeks.
But a good deal of talk on tour these days is about the new event to be played in Washington, where Woods will be tournament host, following in the footsteps of Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Byron Nelson.
The AT&T National immediately raised eyebrows because it came together so quickly after the demise of the International. It then came to light that Woods wanted his July tournament to be an invitational, in the same mold as Palmer's event and Nicklaus' Memorial, both of which have limited fields.
That didn't go over well with several tour members, who prefer to see more playing opportunities, not less.
Then came Phil to the rescue.
"We shouldn't be so (short)-sighted of the fact that Tiger creates so much excess revenue for the tour," Mickelson said. "And those dollars go directly into conflicting (opposite) events. All of those events cannot support themselves financially, the excess revenue goes to support those tournaments and most of the money is driven by Tiger.
"So you're looking at 450 spots that Tiger is creating, and if he wants to take 20 away to have a prestigious event, I think we shouldn't be narrow-minded. If we look at the big picture, he does a heck of a lot more ... and it does an incredible amount for the tour, for the game of golf."
Mickelson's math may be a bit fuzzy, but as one of the game's elite, he doesn't have to worry about getting in tournaments such as Bay Hill, where 120 players will start, or next week's CA Championship at Doral, a World Golf Championship event in which only about 80 will tee it up. It's great for the "haves," not so great for the "have-nots."
Woods said a final decision has not been made, but his preferences are obvious.
"We're trying to put on the best possible tournament we can," he said. "Field size is still up in the air. ... But we want to have it like some of the invitationals and some of the World Golf Championships."