This week's Andersen Consulting Match Play at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., marks the first birthday of the World Golf Championships (a.k.a. the World tour), and although PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem's baby is already a financial giant, the four-tournament circuit has some serious growing up to do. Here are a few irrefutable facts: These events are $5 million money grabs devoid of historic import; they have done nothing but harm the Tour's old-line tournaments; and they've thrown the money list all out of whack.
Moreover, each WGC tournament is flawed. For example, it is almost preordained that two no-names will participate in a one-sided final in the Match Play. Outrage over the European tour's recent decision to change its qualification criteria for the NEC Invitational has exposed that tournament for what it is: a payoff for playing in the Ryder and Presidents Cups, and last year the American Express Stroke Play stepped all over the Tour Championship. Added to the rota this year will be the EMC� World Cup, a funky event with 24 two-man teams that will be played in Buenos Aires for unofficial money during the silly season. Think Shark Shootout on steroids.
Still, the World tour is in good shape. Here's why. Tiger Woods won two of the first three events, giving the WGC instant validity; the top golfers like to play against one another; and the International Federation of PGA Tours, which sanctions the World tour, is willing to fix its mistakes.
The most important correction to date has been moving the Stroke Play from November to mid-September, beginning next year. That means the event isn't locked into a warm-weather location and can be moved to the classic venues that give tournaments heft. Playing at a Winged Foot or a Ballybunion is important if the World tour is to fill a niche just below the majors.
Some of the WGC's other problems will be tougher fixes. Designating the World Cup as a WGC event just because a computer and software maker writes a big check is a reach. Finchem argues that the 43-year-old World Cup fits the WGC profile because it promotes golf internationally, but the tournament's new format excludes noncompetitive teams from countries such as Finland and Pakistan, killing the venerable event's old-world charm. Also, even on its best day the World Cup lacks the sizzle that the World tour needs. The bottom line: Sticking a WGC label on this tournament dilutes the brand.
A larger headache happens when WGC events aren't held in the U.S. Last year's Stroke Play in Spain was a disappointment and is likely to be one again this year, when it returns to Valderrama. A real disaster, however, could come next January, when the Match Play is held in Melbourne. Colin Montgomerie and Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal have already said they won't make the trip, and some Americans, including David Duval, are iffy.
Can a few players sabotage the entire World tour? Probably not. Only one player can, so as long as golf keeps growing, corporations keep paying and Woods keeps playing, whatever difficulties the World Golf Championships have will be fixable.