Tiger Woods takes the Genesis Invitational to new heights as a star-powered, big-money L.A. attraction, akin to events tied to the late Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. It’s yet another symbol of how much Woods means to the PGA Tour.
The Tiger Woods Effect manifests itself in many ways, few of them more impactful than at this week’s PGA Tour stop in Los Angeles. For years, this tournament has trod water gently as Camp Ponte Vedra goes about building a bigger and better beast, maintaining its status as the caboose of the West Coast Swing but hardly qualifying as a must-play event.
A couple of title sponsors have come and gone, which isn’t news, but it’s not a sign of growth, either. The weather at Riviera Country Club hasn’t been awful by any stretch, but it’s often chilly and damp by southern California’s standards, which means the meteorologists are shooting no better than 74. Most of the fields would be described as average. By just about any measure, we’re talking about a nice standard Tour event, with a deep pool of history and a modest level of relevance.
Then the local boy began showing up again – Woods was born and raised 40 miles away, in Cypress – and all health has broken loose. Nine of the world’s top 10 players are in attendance this week, including the tournament host, whose foundation will receive the charity proceeds that he plays a key role in generating. That means a gigantic check from what is now called the Genesis Invitational, a shingle on which the second word clearly is more significant than the first.
A huge bump in the purse size (from $7.4 million to $9.3 million) and a smaller field (from 144 players to 120) are the usual accoutrements of an invitational, as is a three-year Tour exemption instead of two for the winner. The biggest news, however, is that Woods has been appropriated a tournament of exalted status. Just two other invitationals exist. One honors the late Arnold Palmer. The other is a late-spring shrine to Jack Nicklaus.
This is big stuff in the front office. The Tour couldn’t wait to inform us that this was the most star-studded gathering at a standard event in 13 years, so when you add it all up, we’re looking at a baby major with a sky’s-the-limit future simply because one man has spent his life playing golf better than anyone else. For those of you who have grown tired of hearing about Tiger this and Woods that over the years, this isn’t your week.
Behind the curtain, a potent concoction appears to be brewing.
Is this accommodation to Eldrick one method of heading off any threat imposed on the Tour by the fledgling Premier Golf League, which Woods acknowledged having communication with earlier this week?
My team’s been aware of it and...
Hmmm. “My team’s been aware of it and we’ve delved into the details and we’re trying to figure it out, just like everyone else,” he said. “We’ve been down this road before with the World Golf Championships and other events being started.”
As one might expect from a guy who has been dealing with the media since age 2, Woods played it perfectly safe in his comments about the PGL. No endorsement, no dismissal. He has to listen because those who reach greatness do so with their ears as much as with their arms, legs and eyes. And if hosting an invitational would appeal greatly to Woods, serving as an invisible favor from the folks who run the game’s most powerful form of government, it’s not as if a dude with 82 Tour victories, 15 of them major titles, doesn’t deserve it.
This probably would have occurred much sooner if the hydrant hadn’t intervened.
There is an obvious upshot to the whole scenario. If the Tour wants to continue doing business in such grandiose fashion, it absolutely must retain Woods as a member. Even as he rolls into his mid-40s, the TW Effect is stronger than ever, and with the mere suggestion of a rival organization altering pro golf’s landscape, the icon has even more leverage.
With that in mind, the Tour might want to strongly consider the reasons why this week’s top-tier turnout is the deepest since the mid-2000s. Yes, Woods brings a lot of other star power with him, but he recently served in a similar capacity at the Tour event near Washington, and that tournament is now defunct. Few big names ever came, even fewer returned, and Tiger’s presence could do nothing to salvage it.
The whopping purse increase has a hand in the restoration at Riviera, but the 24-man reduction in the field is the unsung hero in this equation. No other stop on the schedule typically has more rounds suspended due to darkness, simply because you can’t cram 144 competitors into less than 11 hours of daylight. This is the one tournament that seems to raise the issue of slow play more than any other. Once word gets out in the locker room, it gives the big boys one more reason to stay away.
Not anymore. The Genesis Invitational quickly has become a triumph of the system, but it also serves as a template for further improvement to the overall product. Shrinking the number of participants at every standard event is something that needs to be done, unless you don’t give a hoot about pace of play. Even the high-and-mighty Tour isn’t ready to dole out $9.3 million every week, but a lack of prize money is the least of anyone’s problems.
Keeping Tiger Woods happy is at the other end of the list. Top priority, you might say, although nobody wants to concede such a thing in a loud voice. The Tour knows who butters its bread. And man, there is a whole lot of bread.
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