The Race to The Tour Championship is one that keeps me interested in the PGA Tour long after the season's final major championship, and this year was no different. I watched nearly every tournament in the past month or two, including yesterday's final round of the Chrysler Championship. Congratulations are in order for K.J. Choi who won this week's tournament and moved from 68th to 26th on the PGA Tour money list. Choi gets to tee it up at East Lake for his efforts.
Most of my weekend focus was on Ernie Els. The Big Easy missed out on the top 30 last season due to late-season injuries, but he was bound and determined to make it to the season's final event this year. In the end, a tie for sixth was good enough to move Els to 27th on the money list. Seeing the South African attempt to crunch the numbers after his round showed me just how much The Tour Championship still means to most of the world's best.
Sadly, I used the word "most" for a reason. Phil Mickelson, the third-ranked golfer in the world, will be skipping his second Tour Championship in a row. Lefty decided to take his ball and go home after a dismal performance at The Ryder Cup last month. Mickelson doesn't seem to care about the late-season events anyway, so I could care less to see him at East Lake this week. However, some fans actually cheer for Mickelson, and they deserve to see him in the season's final event.
The news isn't all negative when talking about The Tour Championship, however. I'm still looking forward to watching the event because many of the world's best will be teeing it up, regardless of the few individuals who won't be making the trip. This week, I'm going to run through the good, the bad, and the ugly of this year's final PGA Tour stop.
As I mentioned earlier, Ernie Els' desire to play in The Tour Championship was admirable. Els usually finishes inside the top 10 on the money list and doesn't have to worry about squeaking into the event. The Big Easy was on the outside looking in most of the season, but a strong finish to the year put him in the field at East Lake this week. It was easy to see that it meant a lot to Els, and that was very nice to see coming from a top-10 golfer in the world.
The young guns on the PGA Tour should get a chance to shine this week, since two of the world's best won't be playing. Luke Donald will be representing Europe, while Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, and Trevor Immelman will be representing the International side of things. There are only two Americans in the field under the age of 30, Lucas Glover and Ben Curtis. Yes, Ben Curtis actually earned a spot in the field.
Back to Geoff Ogilvy for a moment. It will be nice to see the young Australian for the first time since late August. Ogilvy has only played four events on the PGA Tour since his win at The U.S. Open, and two of those were major championships. It has been a breakout season for him, but things could have been even better if he would have played more events. Nonetheless, it will be nice to see Ogilvy back in action.
Lastly, it's always nice to see golfers earning their first trip to The Tour Championship. This year, nearly a third of the field will be playing in the event for the first time. It's hard to believe this will be Ogilvy's first Tour Championship, but that's the case. The same also goes for PGA Tour rookie, Trevor Immelman. I still don't consider him a rookie, but that's obviously not my decision to make. Other notables making their first appearance in this event include Brett Wetterich, Carl Petterson, and J.J. Henry. Brett Quigley will be playing in his first-ever Tour Championship as well, and he did it without a win. It's nice to see consistency on the PGA Tour pay dividends sooner or later.
The bad category is designated almost solely for Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. I already discussed Lefty's story above, so I won't give him anymore of my time. A lot of people debated whether or not Tiger would play any events in October to make a run at another Vardon Trophy for best scoring average on the PGA Tour. Woods needed one more round to qualify, and I actually thought he would play The Funai Classic to get that round.
Needless to say, I was very wrong in my assumption. Woods not only passed up on The Funai Classic, he also extended his vacation by skipping out on The Tour Championship. Woods said he needed the rest, even though he hasn't played a competitive round since October 1st. I'm not a Tiger fan, but wouldn't it be nice to see him play in the events he is supposed to play in? An event is never made worse by the appearance of the world's best, and that would have been the case this week as well.
These two guys should be ashamed of themselves. There will be plenty of time to rest after this week, so that's not a valid excuse. These guys play golf for a living, and the fans put money in their pockets. We deserve to see them play alongside the other 28 guys who qualified for The Tour Championship. Things like this will end up being the downfall of the event. Before long, everyone will be skipping it just like they do The Mercedes Championship at the start of every season. On a sidenote, Stephen Ames had to pull out of The Tour Championship due to a back injury. You may not like the guy, but at least his excuse was valid.
The field has been narrowed to 27 golfers after the withdrawals of Woods, Mickelson, and Ames. We as fans get to deal with it. I'd be ticked off I bought a ticket to the event and missed out on seeing Woods and Mickelson. Well, I probably wouldn't mind, but most golf fans would.
There is no doubt in my mind the three golfers who finished 31st, 32nd, and 33rd on the money list should get a spot in the field this week. They worked their tails off all year to earn the spot, and they deserve to play. The fans paid to see 30 golfers, and that's what they should get. It looks like we will have to deal with this situation every season, so this rule needs to be made in a hurry to allow a 30-player field regardless.
I thought about putting Woods and Mickelson on the ugly list, but then it struck me. At least those two earned a spot in the top 30. Some golfers didn't even play well enough this year to get an invite. I'm not talking about your middle-of-the-road golfers either. The list of exclusions includes Mike Weir, Sergio Garcia, Chris DiMarco, Justin Leonard, and Fred Couples.
It's beyond me how Sergio Garcia finished 49th on the PGA Tour money list. Garcia is ranked inside the top 10 in the world, yet he can't even get to The Tour Championship. It's time for the young Spaniard to look in the mirror and decide if he wants to be one of the best or just hang around the middle of the pack. All I've seen him do lately is falter down the stretch and finish in his usual runner-up position in various European Tour events. Next season might be make or break for Garcia.
It seemed as though Mike Weir was having a pretty good 2006, but he obviously didn't play well enough. Weir was in contention in a lot of big tournaments and should have finished higher on the money list. He couldn't finish the deal down the stretch though. He let things slip away at Pebble Beach early in the season, and he couldn't finish the deal at The PGA Championship either.
Things never really got rolling for DiMarco, Leonard, or Couples. DiMarco showed signs of life at The British Open and PGA Championship, but once he made it onto The Ryder Cup team, he disappeared. Couples tied for third at The Masters, but his season went downhill fast after that. Leonard hasn't played well all season, and I'm not sure if we will hear anything from him again or not. All in all, these five guys should be playing at East Lake this week, but they didn't take care of business. That's definitely worthy of the ugly label.
The Final Say
I'm still excited for The Tour Championship. It's one of the ten events or so every season that I focus on the most. I'll be watching a lot of the younger guys in the field, and I hope we see a changing of the guard so-to-speak. They all deserve to be here, and it's nice to see how appreciative they are of the spot. This event shouldn't be taken for granted, even if your name is Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson.
Has The Tour Championship lost its luster? Not yet, but it may be well on its way to suffering that fate. Hopefully The FedEx Cup will rejuvenate guys like Woods and Mickelson, but we won't know that until next September. The season's final event was meant to be a special one, and that's what it deserves to be. I just hope the world's best continue to recognize this and see fit to play in it every year they earn the right.
That's enough rambling from me for one week, and now it's your turn to tell me what you think. What do you think about Tiger and Phil skipping The Tour Championship? Should it be mandatory for the top 30 to play in the event? Lastly, which golfer disappointed you the most by not making it into the season's final event? If you have anything to add, feel free to comment below or discuss it in the forum. Thanks for reading this week's Thrash Talk!