Tiger's absence hurts Aloha Season
Several tournaments in Hawaii will suffer without the No. 1-ranked player in the field
NOT HAVING Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the Mercedes-Benz Championship field could lead to its demise some day. If you don't think so, then you're just whistling past the 18th green.
The Sony Open in Hawaii was headed toward a ho-hum weekend when Tadd Fujikawa awakened the sleepy Waialae Country Club crowd late Friday evening and brought in thousands of patrons over the weekend to witness this rare event.
Turtle Bay Championship
Where: Palmer Course, Turtle Bay Resort
Time: 7 a.m.
Defending champ: Loren Roberts
Both examples show how perilous this PGA Tour double dip can be. Joined at the hip, the winners-only tournament on Maui attracts most of the game's best. There has been a proven trickle-down effect that the Sony can't do without in order to keep the high quality of golf local fans have come to expect.
It was tough enough for Mercedes tournament chairman Gary Planos to plan an event that was already minus international stars Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, who didn't win on tour in 2006 and therefore weren't eligible. This left it up to Woods to make a grand entrance, because Mickelson never comes, and it didn't happen.
All the FedExCup plans were in place and when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem popped the cork, none of the game's most recognizable faces were in attendance.
There are all kinds of theories as to why Woods left Kapalua off his schedule for two consecutive seasons. You can almost hear Scully saying, "Mulder?" as the X-File agents of the FBI theorize over Woods' disappearance.
Wind. Putting surface. Fatigue. Little cub on the way. Doesn't want to risk current PGA Tour win streak at the wrong ballpark. On holiday. Should have moved his Target event to November as he asked to allow month off with his family. Buick and Mercedes can't be seen together in the same garage. Caddie likes to race in January. You name it.
But when Woods isn't on the scene and his best golfing buddies have gone missing as well, then it doesn't take a golf analyst to see both of these events being in peril by the end of their 2010 contracts.
Tiger Woods watched his tee shot on the fourth hole of the North Course at Torrey Pines during a practice round for the Buick Invitational.
For years, the Sony has survived Woods' and Mickelson's repeated absences with the help of a young teenage girl living her dreams. Michelle Wie looked anything but late Friday afternoon as she and her father closed their Sony Open show with another missed cut. Wie is going through a stage of development that, unfortunately for her and the team, is being viewed worldwide.
The thing about that spotlight is it shines bright, win or lose, especially when a $20 million price tag is attached to your bag. Wie was obviously hurt and was encouraged by someone to play through it. Like Woods, there are more Wie theories floating around than there are golf balls at the driving range.
But as far as the Sony Open goes, it would be wise to see how Wie plays this year, and whether she can relocate the fairways with her driver, before extending another invitation. Fortunately for the Sony powers that be, Fujikawa came along and saved face. Paul Goydos is a fine gentleman, a former substitute teacher who's better at golf than most.
Still, even Champions Tour standout Loren Roberts wished he'd been in the Sony Open field if Goydos was the winner. Hey, everybody's got a chance. And it's just not a compelling enough story to attract the non-golf fans. Fujikawa was that, and then some. He rang a bell with the fans tuned in to The Golf Channel as well. But you can't count on Tadd like you counted on Wie. The Sony needs Els battling Vijay Singh down the stretch more often in order to keep its status.
The same can be said for this week's Turtle Bay Championship. If no sponsor is found for this event in the coming campaign, it's likely it could leave Oahu at the very least and the island chain altogether if Maui or Kauai didn't step forward. Turtle Bay can't be making money given the dynamics of the equation. Yeah, they get to promote their product to freezing folks back home, but it's just not in enough households to justify the cost.
The good folks at MasterCard want to stay right where they are at the Hualalai Golf Club as contract talks continue. But the $1 million site fee that Hualalai has put up the last 10 years since the event moved to the Big Island in 1997 has come to an end. A new deal will likely be reached, but at a lower fare.
Like the Mercedes and the Sony, these two senior circuit events are joined at an even more fragile hip. If things aren't handled properly, it's possible these events could be headed toward the same fate as the Senior Skins tournament on Maui and the Grand Slam of Golf on Kauai.
And don't forget the LPGA. Those two tournaments (the SBS and Fields Opens) are also important to each other. The two fields will be stellar, but it would be that much more compelling if Wie and Annika Sorenstam were playing as well. That's not likely to happen. Sorenstam likes to ski this time of year and Wie is much more likely to skip both tournaments than play both.
If this wrist injury lingers, it would seem rest is in order. And without the Punahou School senior in the mix, attendance will lag. Fujikawa had a great following, but there were plenty of folks jammed around Wie and Morgan Pressel in the final round of the 2006 Fields Open.
What it comes down to is all six of these events can't survive in their current form if the recent trends remain in place. If the Mercedes goes away, the Sony suffers. If a Turtle Bay sponsor can't be found, what does the Champions Tour do to keep from losing its presence in the island chain? And what about Wie? The two LPGA tournaments count on her being in the field to help drive the Asian and U.S. markets as well as sell tickets to local fans.
There's a fine line between missing and making a putt. And there's no doubt the Aloha Season is facing a testy 6-footer for par.
Sports Editor Paul Arnett
has been covering sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1990. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org