Big money, big names add up to big tournament

Big money, big names add up to big tournament

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Geoff Ogilvy, the reigning U.S. Open champion, is the third-round leader at the Target World Challenge, a ‘little’ golf tournament.

The TWC is little because only 16 players get to play. It’s little because it’s not an official PGA Tour event. It’s little because it’s not a major championship. It’s little because it’s December … it’s football season … it’s basketball season … it’s shopping season.

So when a reporter asked Ogilvy to compare his mental state tonight to the state of his nerves during the final round of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, the amiable Aussie had to pick his words carefully. “I’m sure I’ll … I mean, I’ve never played in the last group at a little non-official event like this,” — he grinned to show he was being facetious — “so I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll be more comfortable tomorrow than I would be if I was in the last group on Sunday at Kapalua. It’s just because there’s an asterisk next to the win, maybe. I don’t know.” He shrugged. “I’ll tell you tomorrow afternoon how I felt on the first tee.”

It was only after Ogilvy had left that I caught myself frowning over the word “little” in my notebook. The premise of the reporter’s question — and Ogilvy’s answer — was that off-season tournaments like the Target World Challenge require the players to spike their orange juice on Sunday morning to get them fully awake. I tried to picture Chris DiMarco, who shares second place with tournament host Tiger Woods, weighing his final-round pairing with Ogilvy at Sherwood Country Club against the matinee showing of Dream Girls at the Thousand Oaks Mall.

Hello? Did anybody notice what they’re paying the winner of the Target World Challenge? One-point-three-five million dollars! If you finish last, the position currently held by Adam Scott at 8-over par, you get $170,000 — presumably in Downy-softened hundred-dollar bills (perfect for pat-drying away your tears). John Daly, if he holds onto his current 11th-place position, will win $200,000. That’s more than he banked on the PGA Tour during all of 2006.

So maybe “little” isn’t the right word for the Target.

The field isn’t exactly chopped kidney, either. You start with the player of the year, Woods. You add the U.S. Open champion (Ogilvy) and the European Tour Order of Merit winner (Padraig Harrington) and Player of the Year (Paul Casey). You throw in a passel of Ryder Cuppers (Colin Montgomerie, Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald, David Toms, Davis Love III and DiMarco), Presidents Cuppers (Scott and Michael Campbell), and revered major winners (Daly, Fred Couples, and Jose-Maria Olazabal).

Little? How often does a “big” tournament produce a leaderboard as good as that?

“Well, it’s the same feeling, it’s the same rush,” Woods said after his round, explaining how he feels on Sunday at an unofficial, if lucrative, invitational. “Granted, it’s a smaller field, [but] you don’t ever want to lose to other top players.”

He added, “You’re always feeling pressure, no matter what it is.”

I was happy to hear that. The game will be in big trouble when an all-star field, a network telecast, and a $5.75 million purse aren’t enough to give a player goose bumps.