They rarely see each other off the golf course, but Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson spent more time inside the ropes this season on the PGA Tour than they have in five years.
Thanks in part to the revamped schedule for the FedEx Cup, the No. 1 and No. 2 player in the world competed at the same tournament 15 times this year, compared with 10 times in 2006. The only event Woods played that did not include Mickelson was the BMW Championship in Chicago, which Lefty skipped after winning the previous playoff event at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Mickelson, meanwhile, played six events that Woods did not enter.
It is difficult to get a true measure of whether the FedEx Cup led to greater participation of the top players because it’s not clear which is the best barometer.
To use the top 30 in the world going into 2007 would include Angel Cabrera and Henrik Stenson, who were not PGA Tour members a year ago. The top 30 on the money list includes a couple of players who missed chunks of time because of injury, such as Brett Quigley or Arron Oberholser.
While it’s tough to ignore the concept of two tours – events Woods plays and those he doesn’t – some tournaments did fine without him. The Nissan Open at Riviera had eight of the top 10 in the world, while The Barclays had nine of the top 10.
Nineteen of the 37 events that earned at least full FedEx Cup points (including the playoffs) had at least five of the top 10 players in the world ranking that week. Tournaments with all the top 10 players were the four majors, The Players Championship, Wachovia Championship, two World Golf Championships (Jim Furyk withdrew from Firestone) and the Tour Championship.
On the other end of the spectrum were tournaments that had none of the top 10 – the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, the John Deere Classic and the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro.
Five tournaments only had one player in the top 10 – the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, PODS Championship at Innisbrook, AT&T Classic outside Atlanta, Colonial and the Buick Open.
LAST CHANCE: Annika Sorenstam has not played the LPGA Tournament of Champions in Alabama since 2002, but she is there this week out of necessity. It is her last chance to qualify for the season-ending ADT Championship at Trump International, where a victory pays $1 million and could turn her worst year on the course into a decent one.
LPGA officials are still trying to sort out what Sorenstam needs to qualify, although showing up is a good start.
Sorenstam is 14th in the second-half points list, and the top 13 qualify. Sophie Gustafson and Rachel Hetherington (Nos. 12 and 13) are not playing in Alabama, which helps Sorenstam’s cause.
Even if she doesn’t make it, she is 29th on the money list and could qualify as one of the two wild cards.
Sorenstam is playing for only the 12th time this year, having missed nearly two months with neck and back injuries this spring. But thanks to a rule change last year – this one not aimed at her – the Swede’s eligibility on the LPGA Tour is not affected.
Players who elect international status, such as Sorenstam, must play at least 15 times on the LPGA to keep their membership. That rule was to allow flexibility so players could compete on their home tours, mainly in Europe.
“Over the past few years, with more and more international players and great longevity of their careers, we took a new look at the policy,” deputy commissioner Libba Galloway said.
A change to the constitution in August 2006 waived the 15-event policy for those players who have been in good standing for 10 straight years on the LPGA Tour. Sorenstam has played at least 17 tournaments each year since her rookie season in 1994.
“These are players who have supported the LPGA, and we didn’t feel like they should have to be held to that standard,” Galloway said.
THE BEGINNING IS NEAR: Joey Sindelar finished the year at No. 174 on the money list, his lowest standing in his 24 years on the PGA Tour, meaning he is relegated to status as a past PGA Tour winner for 2008.
Still, he was all smiles as he walked out of the scoring trailer to a future that excites him.
Sindelar turns 50 on March 30, and he is eager to embark on his Champions Tour career. He said he would ask for sponsor’s exemptions to three or four PGA Tour events in the spring before making his debut, probably in the Dominican Republic.
It was easy to leave the PGA Tour after playing the final round at Disney with Carl Pettersson and Sean O’Hair.
“If I can go somewhere and be a young guy again, I’m all for it,” Sindelar said. “And there won’t be a whole lot of cuts to sweat out. That thrills me to death.”
Sindelar said the Champions Tour kept him motivated during lean years. His generation of players was the first to know there was a Champions Tour waiting when they first joined the regular circuit. And his victory at the Wachovia Championship in 2004 helped him stay exempt until turning 50.
WORLD CUP: Stephen Ames will not be playing in the World Cup, meaning no representation for Trinidad or Tobago.
Ames will be busy that week as defending champion of the Skins Game, although he probably wouldn’t have gone to China, anyway. Not only is it a long trip, he said it would have been tough finding a partner. He said his brother, Robert, stopped playing earlier this year and is looking for another job in the golf business.
Robert Ames used to caddy for his brother, but quit last year to give playing one more try.
“The last time we talked, he’s looking at directing golf courses in Jamaica,” Ames said.
DIVOTS: Four tournaments during the Fall Series had a stronger field than the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, which counts as a FedEx Cup event and whose winner (Brandt Snedeker) got an automatic invitation to the Masters. … Charles Howell III will be playing with Nick Price, his golf idol as a teenager, at the Merrill Lynch Shootout next month. Tournament host Greg Norman is playing with Bubba Watson, while Fred Couples will play with John Daly. … The top 10 players on the money list combined to win $50.4 million. … One year after Australians won eight times on the PGA Tour, their only victories in 2007 came from Adam Scott and Aaron Baddeley.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Mathias Gronberg earned $785,180 to finish at No. 125 on the PGA Tour money list and keep his card. Ten years ago, that would have been enough to qualify for the Tour Championship.
FINAL WORD: “He didn’t get in this week, so he’s shooting his mouth off. So that’s fine.” – Ernie Els, responding to criticism from Colin Montgomerie of missing the Volvo Masters because Els signed a contract to play the Singapore Open.