Though Mediate sees this Silly Season as a way to raise his status in the golf world, he's candid about the other motivation for taking part. "You can't say it's not about the money," says Mediate, who finished 34th on this year's money list. "You're lying if you do."
For those living in the Tour's middle class, the Silly Season money might seem pretty good, but for the elite players the smallish purses are little more than chump change. "It used to be that the off-season purses were just as big as the regular-season purses, and only 10 or 20 guys were playing," says Davis Love III, who was invited to virtually every Silly Season event this year and turned down every invitation but one. "But these little two-day events haven't raised their purses, and they can't compete anymore. In November we're playing a $5 million event [the Tour Championship], then another $5 million event [the American Express Championship]; then we wait another three or four weeks [actually seven] and there's another tournament with $5 million on the table [the 2001 World Match Play]. All that money is official. You tell me where our priorities should be."
The Silly Season's downfall is neatly summed up by Scott Hoch. "There's only so much Tiger to go around," he says. "If he doesn't play in something, then why have it?"
Even established Tour events are rendered all but meaningless without Woods. You think the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge can survive without him? Woods is in the vanguard of players snubbing the Silly Season events in favor of bona fide tournaments held abroad. Between the start of November and the end of year, Woods scheduled trips to Spain for the American Express Championship, Thailand for the Johnnie Walker Classic and Argentina for the World Cup (to go along with journeys earlier this year to European tour events in Germany and Scotland), leaving time for only one Silly Season event—his own, this week's Williams World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Ask Woods if the Silly Season is dying, and he says, "I don't think so. Some tournaments have gotten bigger in recent years."
Woods is being coy. He knows that his is the only Silly Season event that is thriving. Ten of the world's top 20 golfers (including Love) will be among the dozen players at the World Challenge. The field would be even stronger, but Africans like Ernie Els and Nick Price feel an obligation to try to keep their Sun City event afloat.
The cachet of the World Challenge, which is only in its second year, inspires mixed emotions in Mediate. It's as if this year he finally got invited to the party, only to show up at the wrong address. " Tiger Woods is the biggest name in sports," he says. "That's one tournament everyone wants to be a part of. Those are like the cool people in school, and we're over here on the other side of the cafeteria wishing we could hang out with them. But that only gives me more incentive to work harder, so I can move up in the World Ranking and get to be a part of that scene."
Mediate had better move up, because the day is coming, and soon, when Woods's is not just the best Silly Season event but also the only one.