Skipping superstars are putting local PGA Tour events in peril
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson not coming to the Mercedes-Benz Championship is bad for the Sony Open in Hawaii.
It might not seem so at first glance, since neither golfer has ever played in the Sony Open and is not likely to do so in their lifetimes. But when these two PGA Tour tournaments were joined at the hip nearly a decade ago, the success of one benefited the other, regardless if the two biggest names in golf teed it up on Oahu.
Mickelson ditched the Mercedes after 2001 and Woods has done the same the last three years, leaving the Mercedes and Sony officials feeling left out as the tour prepares for the 2008 campaign.
Television ratings for the Mercedes were strong in 2000 when Woods beat Ernie Els in a playoff. The PGA Tour was able to showcase its season-opening event without the NFL playoffs causing bodily harm.
But all that's changed.
The major networks eventually realized the profitability of having the NFL playing morning, noon and night on the weekends, forcing the Mercedes off the national broadcast road and onto the Golf Channel. This is one of those decisions with long-range implications as the national cable network tries to build credibility by broadcasting these early-season events in Hawaii and California.
Unfortunately, those ratings numbers aren't good in the grand scheme of sports broadcasting, complicated further when the season-opening show has few of its proven stars. Not only are Woods and Mickelson missing from the scene, but so are Els and Sergio Garcia, since neither won a tour event in 2007.
Padraig Harrington is going to sit this one out as well, leaving the winners-only field bereft of names the casual fan would recognize. This is not to say there won't be plenty of talent walking up and down the hills of the Plantation Course on Maui and the flatlands of Waialae. There are a lot of young guns moving up the PGA Tour charts who are not yet on the tip of everyone's tongue.
And therein lies the problem for the two local tournaments paying huge payouts with not enough walk-up traffic and TV revenues to foot the bill. When Woods and Mickelson are in the field, there are plenty of patrons leaning up against the ropes. There are also major newspapers and magazine writers from around the world there to tell their stories.
Because of the prohibitive cost of sending someone to Hawaii to cover the two opening tour events, you have to convince editors it's worth the dough needed to stay two weeks in the island chain. No Woods. No Mickelson. No go. And that gets tour officials and sponsors thinking that maybe Hawaii isn't the place to be after all.
The Sony Open will struggle to survive if the Mercedes folks pack their cars and take them back to California. Part of the plan was to have the Mercedes attract enough winners to stay over another weekend and produce a quality field on Oahu, which it has done. But the Sony Open folks would quickly discover what the United Airlines folks already knew in the waning days of the Hawaiian Open.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer, just warning signs that when these two contracts run out, much like the Pro Bowl, the PGA Tour could pack its bags and head back to the mainland, where more lucrative contracts await.
Sports Editor Paul Arnett
has been covering sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1990. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org