Ever since it was leaked that it would have a limited field, Tiger's brand spankin' new Washington, D.C., tournament has polarized pros the way Iraq has cleaved politicians.
Two weeks ago Rich Beem bashed the event, which will benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation, as, "sticking it to the players." His point: Since Tiger's tourney will take the International's old place on the docket, July 5-8, and the International was a full-field event, with 156 players, Tiger's soiree ought to be a full-field event, too, not some highfalutin Arnold Palmer Invitational or Memorial — Jack Nicklaus's exclusive gathering every May. Brad Faxon, among others, seemed to line up in the Beem camp.
Alas, opinion started pulling the other way at Bay Hill last week. Maybe it was the fact that Woods was actually on the premises, but after Rocco Mediate opened 66-65 to take the 36-hole lead, he gave a salty rebuttal on the Golf Channel:
"The rank and file need to shut up," Mediate said, pointing to the riches Woods has brought to the PGA Tour (and essentially locking up a lifetime invitation to the $6 million AT&T National, Woods's new event). Phil Mickelson seconded the point, explaining that Woods has expanded playing opportunities for all Tour pros, what with multiple events staged some weeks, like the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play and the PGA Tour-subsidized Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun, Mexico, in late February.
Not every WGC tournament is played alongside a lesser Tour event. This week's CA Championship at Doral, for example, is the only game on Tour. Still, both sides have a point. Beem and Faxon's is just a little better. To understand why, consider Ryan Moore.
In case you've forgotten about him, Moore is the free spirited 24-year-old from the Pacific Northwest who did nothing much as an amateur except win the 2004 U.S. Amateur, U.S. Public Links, NCAA Championship, Western Amateur and Sahalee Players Championship. He finished T13 for low amateur honors at the 2005 Masters, at which point pretty much everybody had him pegged as America's next superstar.
Alas, Moore's rise to the upper echelon hit turbulence when his left hand started hurting. He got it diagnosed a year ago last week, had surgery to repair a fractured hamate on March 20, missed the Masters, and has been trying to bounce back ever since. He tied for 8th at the PODS Championship two weeks ago, a top-10 that would have got him in the field last week, but Palmer's tournament is exactly the kind of event that Tiger's would be: an invitational, with a less-than-full field. Moore stayed home.
"It feels great," Moore said of his wrist as he practiced at the PODS, wearing sneakers as he tried to find his putting stroke on Friday evening. "This is the U.S. Amateur, NCAAs type of feeling, when I was controlling the ball, making it do what I want it to do."
How would he have done at Bay Hill last week? Good question, but we'll never know. Mark Rummings and Kyle Stanley, on the other hand, missed the cut, which highlighted the main problem with invitationals: You have to know which players to invite.
Moore would be the last guy to go looking for sympathy, but the resistance he's found as he works his way back onto leaderboards illustrates at least in part why America isn't doing any better at developing young talent.
Limited fields are only part of the problem. Moore is not qualified for the Masters in three weeks, and when he asked the club to hold over his 2006 invitation, which he earned with a top-16 finish in 2005 but couldn't use after the operation, he was denied.
That's typical of the lords of Augusta, who have no qualms about forsaking an American kid who loves the course and has the record to prove it, who says he's hitting the ball higher now, perfect for Augusta National. But 1971 Masters champion Charles Coody? Let him play. There's a lot about Augusta that makes no sense; we're used to it.
The problem is, thanks to limited fields, Palmer's Bay Hill party is a tough invite, just as Jack's is and the majors are, just as the WGC events are, just as the four FedEx Cup playoff events will be.
Rather than apply for a medical waiver last year, Moore played through the pain and found that by pointing the club directly out from his belt buckle at address, as if it were a fishing pole, he could minimize discomfort. He finished T2 at the Buick Championship and T9 at the PGA, his first major as a pro, and ended the year 81st on the money list.
It was reminiscent of 2005, when Moore, after making the cut in the U.S. Open, turned pro and made enough money in eight starts to earn his PGA Tour card without having to go to the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. He was the first person since Woods in 1996 to advance directly to The Show without enduring golf's dreaded bar exam.
Moore has his foibles. He doesn't use a yardage book and only recently decided to use a professional caddie instead of his brother. But Tom Lehman was speaking for many when he said recently that Moore could start winning in bunches any day. Ping prominently features Moore, a UNLV product, in its TV advertisements, waiting for him to blow up.
He blames himself, not his injury or Tour policy, for failing to qualify for this week's WGC-CA Championship, or the Masters. But when one of America's top prospects says he's finally healthy again and nabs a top-10 to prove it, and when that player is then snubbed from the following week's invitational in favor of players like Rummings and Stanley and sponsor's invite Mike Hulbert (MC), something is out of whack.
Yeah, Moore will be a star someday, despite the majors and the ever-expanding smorgasbord of elite-field cash-grabs, but we knew that. What we don't know is why we put up with a system that slows his maturation at every turn. And what we've learned, no matter who wins "Tiger v. Rank and File," is why America keeps losing the Ryder Cup.