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World Golf events having problems

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2000


By most accounts, the World Golf Championship events have been a welcome addition to the landscape, bringing together the top players and offering big money to help differentiate the events from PGA Tour ones.

But the tournaments have not been without problems, and this week's NEC Invitational is a good example. The $5-million tournament ($1-million to the winner) brings together members of the U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, the International Presidents Cup team and, previously, the European Ryder Cup team.

That's the problem. Last year the field was filled with European Ryder Cup players who assumed they would be eligible this year under the same criteria.

But the European PGA Tour changed the rules, electing to go with the top 12 on its money list. The change was made for obvious reasons: to try to get more players to play in Europe this year. That means Jesper Parnevik, Sergio Garcia and Jean Van de Velde will not compete at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. The controversy has caused Parnevik to give up his European tour membership.

"I would have got in if I had been South African, Japanese or even Chinese because I would have qualified for the International Presidents Cup off the world rankings," Parnevik said. "But because I'm European, I don't get in."

Parnevik is right. And it is wrong for him to not be included. How can it truly be a world event if the top players in the world are not playing?

Similar concerns are on the horizon for other World Golf Championship events. The season-ending Stroke Play Championship, to be played at Valderrama in Spain, will have several no-shows. To have the tour end its season on foreign soil has never felt right anyway. Next year the event moves to St. Louis in September.

And the Match Play Championship, a wild success in its first two years, could be missing as many as a dozen of the top 64 players in the world because the tournament moves to Australia in early January. When Australian Greg Norman says he won't play, that tells you something. Tiger Woods also has said he will not participate.

MAY DAY: Bob May, who took Woods to a playoff before falling by one shot Sunday at the PGA Championship, has committed to the Tampa Bay Classic on Oct. 19-22 at the Westin Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor. May earned $540,000 and moved to 28th on the PGA Tour money list with $1,023,542. Peter Jacobsen also committed to the event.

SURPRISE CHOICE: Ken Venturi made Bradenton's Paul Azinger one of his captain's selections for the U.S. Presidents Cup team despite Azinger being 12th on the points list. Azinger, however, is a good choice. He was 2-0-1 in singles competition for the three Ryder Cup teams he has made. He won this year in Hawaii, completing his comeback from cancer. And he loves playing for his country.

"I'm honored and privileged," Azinger, 40, said. "I wondered whether I'd ever play for my country again. I can't wait."

The Presidents Cup's gain is the Tampa Bay Classic's loss. The events are the same week, and Azinger almost certainly would have committed to play at Innisbrook had he not been picked for the competition.

COMING TO FLORIDA?: Because of the closure of a Las Vegas resort, the LPGA's Tour Championship could be headed to Florida. LPGA officials announced this week that they will have to play the Nov. 16-19 event, scheduled for the Desert Inn, at another location. The hope is to play it at another Las Vegas course. But LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw mentioned Florida, particularly LPGA International in Daytona Beach, as a possible alternative.

SO CLOSE: Already the debate has begun: If Woods wins the Masters in April -- giving him four major championships in a row -- would that be considered winning the Grand Slam? An interesting topic for discussion over the next seven months. Perhaps more interesting is how close Woods came to winning all four this year. He shot an opening-round 75 at the Masters -- his last over-par round in a major -- with double bogey at the 10th hole and triple bogey at the 12th.

If Woods turns those miscues into pars, he's right in the thick of the tournament on the back nine Sunday. He finished fifth, six shots back of winner Vijay Singh.

MORE TIGER: Woods made his 54th consecutive cut at the PGA, placing him behind Byron Nelson (113), Jack Nicklaus (105), Hale Irwin (86) and Dow Finsterward (72) for the most cuts made in a row in tour history.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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