It's no secret that the Tour is concerned about the so-called second-tier tournaments, second tier being defined as any event Tiger Woods doesn't enter. Tournament directors in the U.S. are not allowed to offer Woods the big bucks he rakes in just for showing up in such places as Germany or Thailand or, next year, the United Arab Emirates. Of course, there are ways around that. It's rumored that one of those down-and-out events on the Tour schedule promised to build an addition to Tiger's house with a golden arch above it so he could order a Big Mac anytime, day or night. Woods was supposedly ready to accept, but the zoning board in Windemere balked.
Commissioner Tim Finchem's Crisis Control Committee met recently at Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and after a quick 18, cocktails and lunch, discussed what could be done to reinvigorate tournaments that are taking on, shall we say, a Hooters look. One barometer of the strength of a field, Finchem told the gathering, is the number of major-championship winners entered. Too many events, he said, have featured only three or four such past champions, and often those have been very past, a Larry Mize or a Fuzzy Zoeller, for instance. So the question before the committee was, How can these fringe tournaments attract, if not Tiger, at least a sampling from the top of the World Ranking?
One of the Tour's younger executive vice presidents, the guy in charge of Sunday cleanup of corporate hospitality tents, noticed that in the fine print of the Tour's bylaws it is stated that "the commissioner is allowed to assign any one player to any one tournament once, but only once, a year." "The perfect solution," Finchem was reported to have said. The committee unanimously agreed that the commissioner himself should deliver the message to the world's best player. According to sources, that conversation went like this:
"Hello, is Mr. Woods at home? Oh, it's you, Tiger. Tim calling. Tim Finchem. Commissioner Tim Finchem. You sounded different just now, almost as if you were asleep. You were asleep? Golly, I'm sorry, Tiger. It's noon and I thought...I thought...O.K., never mind what I thought.
"Your phone number? Yes, I know it's unlisted. No, O'Meara didn't give it to me. No, it wasn't Nike, either. Well, if you must know, it was Costner. He said to tell you he's got a spot for you in his next film. Some sort of sequel. Asked if you can swim.
"Listen, Tiger, the reason I'm calling is this: Ever heard of a nice little tournament called the Michelob Championship at Kingsmill? No, I'm not joking; it's a real tournament, held late in the season. In Virginia, I think, or maybe Maryland. Doesn't matter. No, it's an 18-hole course, four days. Just like the Masters, heh heh. Your old college pal Notah Begay III won it last year. Beat Tom Byrum in a playoff. I said Byrum. Tiger, he plays with you on the Tour. Well, maybe not exactly with you, but if he's made the cut, he's out there Sundays, probably on the back nine when you're teeing off.
"What I'm getting at is this, Tiger: The Michelob Championship needs you. In fact, it probably can't survive another year without you. No, I'm not suggesting that you play in it. I'm ord...ord...ordering you to play in it. Stop laughing, Tiger, it's in the bylaws: page 35, section 6F, paragraph 4. Right there in the small print alongside my salary and bonus plan.
"Counterproposal? Sure, I'll listen, but I can't imagine any.... You'll what? Well that's interesting. And generous, I might add. I'll take it up with the Michelob folks. Let's see if I have it right. You'll personally up Michelob's purse from $3 mil to $5 mil. You'll guarantee that Davis, Jesper and Phil will be there, and you'll work it out so if the winner is someone like David Toms, he gets an invite to the Masters. Sounds good. But tell me, Tiger, what do you get out of this, other than not having to play in Maryland? Or is it Virginia?
"No, I've never heard of the Middle East Open. You're playing there the same week as the Michelob? They're giving you...what? Funny, my cell phone must be breaking up. It sounded as if you said they're giving you Saudi Arabia."