Miami, Fla. — There are two obvious reasons why Tiger Woods dominates the World Golf Championships events (he’s won 15 of 26): One, and this may come as a shock, he’s really good (Man, I love breaking big news.); Two, the WGC events are just about the easiest events in golf to win.
The only easier marks are the Tour Championship, which is small even by corporate outing standards with a 30-man field (or 28 if Tiger and Phil Mickelson stay home), and the winners-only Mercedes Championships (31 players this year with Tiger and Phil coincidentally staying home). So to those who always point out that one of Byron Nelson’s 11 straight wins was a two-man team event (with his partner Jug McSpaden), I say the Tour and Mercedes Championships may be even more deserving of asterisks.
Then there are the WGCs. This week’s field at Doral features 79 players, about half of what the U.S. Open will have. Ten of those select 79 players (about 13 percent) cannot be found in the top 100 of the Official World Golf Rankings. Yes, your elite field this week includes S.S.P. Chowrasia (no relation to the S.S. Minnow), Chapchai Nirat (not the sound made when you get up from a vinyl seat cover on a hot summer’s day), Andrew McLardy (not the illegitimate son of Mayor McCheese), and Paul Sheehan (the 249th best player on the planet). Let the awe wash over you for a moment.
Tiger must beat only half as many opponents as usual. No wonder he probably debated whether to name his baby daughter Sam, Earlette or WGC. (All right, I may have made that up. All right, I definitely made it up.)
Golf is a game of numbers. On any given day with a full field of 156 (or even 144) players, at least a dozen or more are going to light it up with birdies. Why? Because they’re just that good. With the WGC’s half-full, half-empty field, the prospects of that happening are far less. Fewer low rounds equals less excitement.
The counter argument that the world’s top 50 players are in the field is a good one. They are here, and that’s about all who is here. The WGCs are like a Vegas showgirl — top-heavy but lacking depth. (With apologies to Vegas showgirl-scientists everywhere.)
Lowery won at Pebble Beach in February. He’s not at Doral. Lucas Glover starred on the Presidents Cup team last fall. He’s not here. Brian Gay recently scored his first career win. Not here. British Open champion Padraig Harrington is missing in action by choice, but how about Steve Flesch? He won two PGA Tour tournaments last year and finished among the top 30 on the money list. He’s exempt into three of the four majors in 2008 and the WGC event in Akron. Yet he’s not here.
He quickly grew tired of the surprised and sympathetic reactions last week at Bay Hill when other players were stunned to learn he wasn’t in the Doral field.
“Everyone was like, what do you mean you’re not in Doral? You won twice last year,” said Flesch, whose victories came in the Reno-Tahoe Open (held opposite the Bridgestone Invitational) and the Turning Stone Championship (which kicked off the devalued new Fall Series).
Flesch would’ve been in this field last year when anyone from the top 30 on the money list or top 30 on the FedEx Cup points list was admitted. This year, the tour eliminated money and counts only the contrived FedEx Cup points. The Masters and U.S. Open still recognize the money list as a more relevant stat (since no Fall Series events earn FedEx Cup events). Flesch’s win at Turning Stone helped him vault into the top 30, the traditional entry into big events, but he was 71st in points. So he’s on the outside looking in this week.
“The money got me into Augusta and I’m grateful for that,” he said. “Isn’t top 30 on the money list worth anything? And you’re belittling the fall events by giving them no points. What’s their incentive to stay on the schedule and what’s any players’ incentive to play in them? There are no points and the money doesn’t count toward anything anymore. I got a two-year exemption for winning Reno and the money spends great but I think I damn near lost world ranking points that week. It’s pitiful. The tour is really shoving the FedEx Cup down our throats.”
John Senden, ranked 51st, isn’t playing at Doral. Neither is former PGA champ David Toms. Or Davis Love. Or Pat Perez, Rod Pampling, Bart Bryant, Carl Petterson, Bubba Watson or Jerry Kelly. Flesch, by the way, is No. 108 on your world ranking scorecard.
The FedEx Cup should be recognized for what it is — a sideshow designed entirely to entice the TV networks into signing a long-term deal. Those points shouldn’t be used to determine fields for real events. As for the WGC’s traditional mini-fields, as long as Tiger keeps winning them (as he probably will this week, since he’s going for seven straight victories) and further validating them (nothing makes a tournament look better than a great champion or in this case, the greatest possible champion), nobody is going to notice that they could (and should) expand them to at least 120.
Except, perhaps, Mr. Flesch.