KAPALUA, Hawaii — Tim Finchem insisted there's nothing wrong with the first tournament of the season in a press conference at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Sunday.
The PGA Tour commissioner was adamant about the quality of the tournament despite a record 11 no-shows, only two players in the top 10 in the World Ranking, and the paddleboarding injury to Lucas Glover that compelled the former U.S. Open champion to WD before he'd hit a shot. The 27 players who remain make up the smallest field since the tournament moved to Kapalua in 1999.
"Half of those [no-show] players either had a baby or got hurt," Finchem said. "So there's nothing much we can do about that."
The Tour has asked players to begin to mix it up with their scheduling, and for the most part, Finchem said, they've done that. Phil Mickelson announced last week he will return to the Humana Challenge, the old Bob Hope tournament in Palm Springs, Calif. The popular lefthander won it twice before abandoning the event in 2008. Thanks in part, perhaps, to a letter from the new tournament host, President Bill Clinton — the letter went out to many players — Phil will begin his 2012 season in two weeks.
"Any kind of rotation and getting into new markets or places they have not been in five or six years, or a long time, is a positive thing," Finchem said.
Tiger Woods played the Frys.com Open for the first time last fall and may be planning on playing the upcoming AT&T at Pebble Beach for the first time in 10 years, perhaps with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
But if the stars are indeed more committed to spreading the wealth, Kapalua hasn't seen it. Mickelson hasn't played the tournament since 2001, and elected not to play again this year despite winning the Shell Houston Open last April. He is said to dislike the course's vertiginous climbs and fickle winds. Woods didn't qualify this year and likely wouldn't have come anyway. He hasn't played since '05. Europeans Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy were eligible but elected not to come to Maui, and the same goes for Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
As Finchem pointed out, their active status on the European Tour makes things more complicated.
"Their Road to Dubai is later, much later, than our FedEx Cup finals and playoffs," Finchem said.
As a consequence, those players are taking much-needed time off.
"It's impacted their scheduling," Finchem continued. "Now, whether that's a long-term dynamic or not, I don't know."
"It's unfortunate that they didn't show up," Michael Bradley said of the 11 no-shows earlier this week. He had just shot an opening-round 68 to take the early lead, but he had no illusions about suddenly becoming a household name at age 45.
"I'm not going to drive the TV ratings; I know that," he said. "People aren't sitting in front of their TV going, 'Oh, Michael Bradley is leading, let's go watch him.' I'm fine with that, but when you get top-10 players in the world not going, it's a shame. I feel bad for all the people that put it on."
The only top-10 players in the field, Steve Stricker and Webb Simpson, battled in the final group during Sunday's third round, with defending champion Jonathan Byrd lurking. The tournament will end Monday, a preemptive move made to escape the long shadow of the NFL playoffs.
Whatever the TV ratings, it appears Hawaiian tourism will be the big winner. The weather has been perfect, the whales have been frisky, and the telecast has featured spots in which Tour players like Anthony Kim enjoy the local extracurricular activities such as zip-lining. For viewers still slogging through winter in the lower 48, the tournament remains a feast for the eyes
The Hyundai "may be the best visual week that we have on the PGA Tour," Finchem said.
"Don't overreact," he added. "We've got a great tournament here. If we can make it better, sure, but I think it's all about making it better, not fixing something, because I don't think anything is broken."