Wednesday, March 18, 2009

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — The next PGA Tour policy board meeting could go a long way toward reshaping the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am - where it's played and how many players get into the field.

The tournament now features 180 teams (one pro, one amateur) that play at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills.

One recommendation is lower the field size to 144 players, which some believe will alleviate the six-hour rounds or at least prevent three groups from stacking up on the par 5s. Poppy Hills, which has five par 5s, takes the longest to play.

The hang up?

"It's primarily amateur access," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. "Everybody says, 'Just charge more.' But what Pebble has done is create a network of people who support the tournament. Some are rotated in and out, and a lot of them write checks to the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, which has one of the best First Tee programs in the course. If you have less access, it could negatively impact that critical mass of activity that supports what you're doing."

The other component is the golf course, and among those mentioned as a replacement for Poppy Hills - the weak link in the rotation - is Cypress Point, rated as among the best courses in America.

Cypress was dropped from the rotation in 1991 because of its exclusionary membership policies, which no longer is a problem.

The other possibilities are Bayonet, recently refurbished and considered among the toughest tracks in California; and Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

Finchem would not say how serious the board is looking at change, especially the field size.

"Part of you says, 'Make it as good as it can be.' That's generally our attitude with any tournament," he said. "But you've got to take other things under account that might hold you back a little bit."

One other factor to consider is the strengthened relationship with the title sponsor and the world's No. 1 player. Tiger Woods now has a deal with AT&T to carry its logo on his golf bag. AT&T already sponsors his PGA Tour event in Washington.

Woods has not played the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am since 2002, but is likely to return next year - for no other reason than the U.S. Open will be held at Pebble in 2010.

That has led to speculation among players that Woods is behind the changes, particularly the courses. Rick George, chief of operations for the PGA Tour, said discussions began before Woods signed his bag deal with AT&T.

VALUE OF THE KING: Padraig Harrington has great respect for Arnold Palmer, but it went to a higher level last week in Miami when he overheard someone ordering an Arnold Palmer - iced tea with lemonade.

"That says it all that you can go into a random restaurant and order a drink named after a professional golfer," Harrington said. "Even Tiger Woods hasn't got there yet."

EXPANDED FIELD: Jimmy Walker and Colt Knost were in the Transitions Championship after the 5 p.m. deadline to commit on Friday. Two days later, they were alternates who needed someone to withdraw to get a tee time.

Blame that on the weak, opposite-field event last week in Puerto Rico.

Players who finish in the top 10 are eligible for the following week, provided it's not a limited tournament like Bay Hill or the Memorial. Six players from Puerto Rico qualified for Innisbrook - Jason Day, Greg Chalmers, J.P. Hayes, D.A. Points, Joe Durant and Kent Jones.

Michael Bradley made it seven - he won the tournament and is exempt now for two years - but withdrew from Tampa with an injury.

It could have been worse if the tour had the same provision for World Golf Championships. Otherwise, four players from the top 10 at Doral - Jeev Milkha Singh, Oliver Wilson, Soren Kjeldsen and Thomas Aiken - would have been eligible for Tampa.

Andy Pazder, senior vice president of tour administration, said the policy board decided not to include WGCs because of the high number of non-tour members who play.

DIVOTS: Greg Norman has entered the Cap Cana Championship next week in the Dominican Republic, his first Champions Tour event that is not a major. Norman also will play the Shell Houston Open the following week as he prepares for his return to the Masters. ... Americans went 1-2-3 at the CA Championship (Phil Mickelson, Nick Watney, Jim Furyk), the first time that happened in the CA Championship, and the fourth time overall in a World Golf Championship. ... The Verizon Heritage solved its courtesy car problem - BMW Manufacturing Co. in South Carolina will share its fleet of cars that it uses for its Nationwide Tour event.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Phil Mickelson has finished ahead of Tiger Woods in consecutive tournaments, the first time he has done that since the Masters and U.S. Open in 2006.

FINAL WORD: "I miss American hamburgers." - Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, who is playing the Transitions Championship for his first PGA Tour start since Riviera last month.

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