No-shows hurting PGA Tour

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

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In New York this week, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is trying to put the finishing touches on a television deal to keep his sport and its stars rolling in cabbage for the next six years.

It has been a long, tough haul for Finchem this past fall and winter. Last time out, in 2001, he pulled off a four-year $1-billion US TV coup. In the aftermath, the Tour made out like bandits while the networks took a financial bath.

This time the networks were ready when Finchem came calling, and he's not going to get anywhere near the same yearly take.

To gild the lily a bit, Finchem has undertaken massive changes to the Tour schedule in an attempt to make it more TV friendly, starting in 2007.

Still, the TV boys are lukewarm. Wary, even. Word is that ABC, where golf has been a staple, is not even bidding.

Now, against that somewhat tense backdrop and five time zones away, the first tournament of the season, the prestigious Mercedes Championship, brings together all the tournament winners from last year at beautiful Kapalua on the island of Maui.

The tournament begins today.

Well, at least some of the tournament winners. Actually, it is all the tournament winners who could fit it into their busy holiday schedules. That means you get Vaughn Taylor, Carl Pettersson and everybody's favourite, Wes Short Jr.

No Tiger Woods. No Phil Mickelson. No Retief Goosen. And no Padraig Harrington.

Now think about it. Imagine you're one of the saps at ESPN stuck with a season-opening turkey like this to broadcast when you thought you were getting a premier event. And Finchem is sitting across the desk from you trying to pick your pocket again. Just how excited are you going to be to sign for six more years?

The lousy optics of the situation are not lost upon some of the Tour veterans who can remember a time when they weren't playing routinely for $5-million purses.

And they don't want to return to those days.

"Well, I text-messaged Tiger and said, 'No Hawaii for you, more cash for me,' " Canadian Open champion Mark Calcavecchia told reporters in Hawaii.

"I think they should be here. It's bad for the tournament. Good for me, bad for the tournament. I don't have to beat Tiger, Phil, Retief or Padraig. That's a bonus factor. If I'm looking to win this tournament, there are four guys that could easily win it. I wish they were here, though ... I think they should be."

Woods played all over the world during golf's silly season in November and December, then decided he needed time off.

Mickelson hasn't dragged himself off the couch since the Presidents Cup at the end of September. He didn't even accept his invitation to the Tour Championship in November, a fact that ticked off Finchem mightily.

Goosen can be excused, given he has to come halfway around the world. And Harrington gets a pass because of the death of his father near the end of last season.

"Mercedes is putting up a lot of money here," Fred Funk said. "They want to see the marquee guys. It really hurts the field. You get enough guys not showing up, it would make a sponsor say 'Why am I doing this? Why am I putting up all this money?' "

Indeed, it just so happens that these no shows come at a time when Mercedes still hasn't decided whether to return as a sponsor for the next four years. Given the indifference of the stars who could bring attention to the event, why would they bother?

"It's going to be a great event," said Bart Bryant, who won the Tour Championship.

SOMETHING MISSING

"But for those four guys not to be here, even as a player, it feels like there's a little something missing."

If this fat-cat mentality persists on the PGA Tour, there will be more than a "little something missing" down the road.

For starters, how about one less zero at the end of their paycheques?

Think that might get somebody's attention?


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