US events struggle for top players
Two of the golf tournaments Jeff Maggert once considered his favorites were part of the Fall Series that didn't attract any of the top players. One of them was Disney, which began in 1971 and was played for the final time last month.
Having finished his 22nd year on the U.S. PGA Tour, Maggert says the introduction of the World Golf Championships, the FedEx Cup and the influx of so many top international players have changed the landscape.
"When I started, the tournaments were very consistent week to week," Maggert said. "Now there seems to be a real up-and-down on strength of fields. That's just the way the tour has evolved. The World Golf Championships have really hurt the consistency of the rest of the tournaments out here."
The exceptions when he was a rookie would have been the four majors, the invitation events like Memorial, Bay Hill and Colonial, and even Las Vegas, which back then had a higher purse than all the majors and every tournament except for the Tour Championship. It led Maggert to do some math. Throw out the World Golf Championships, the four FedEx Cup playoff events, the four majors and that leaves only a dozen tournaments for the top players.
He believed the top players all migrated to the same regular US PGA Tour events, and while some stops are predictable, there is surprising balance.
Here's the drill: Take the top 20 U.S. PGA Tour members from this week's world ranking (that goes down to Dustin Johnson at No. 21). Throw out the majors, WGCs, playoff events and The Players Championship.
The strongest tournament not on that list was the Memorial, which attracted 15 of the top 20 players in this week's world ranking. The only other regular tournaments that had at least 10 of the top 20 were the Northern Trust Open at Riviera (12) and the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill (11).
The surprise was that nine players were at the Transitions Championship outside Tampa, Florida, which is in dire need of a title sponsor. The Copperhead course at Innisbrook is one of the best-kept secrets on tour, and some believe it's the best tournament course in all of Florida. The other tournaments drawing at least nine players were the Phoenix Open and the Zurich Classic, which has a separate ambassador program that compensates some players in the field.
The Greenbrier Classic also offers "incentives" - it got Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson this year - so perhaps it's not surprising that it had more players from today's top 20 (eight) than the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow (seven).
Three tournaments in the Fall Series - the Frys.com Open, McGladrey Classic and Disney - were the only ones on tour that did not have anyone from today's top 20.
Narrow the group to the top 10 in the world, and Memorial still had eight of those players in its field. It was followed by four tournaments that had five players from today's top 10 - Tampa, Riviera, Bay Hill and the Honda Classic.
Even so, the tour is deeper than ever, especially while going through a generational shift. There were 18 tournaments (besides the WGCs, majors and playoffs) that had at least five of the top 20 at their events. The seven tournaments in the regular FedEx Cup season that did not attract at least five of the top 20 were the Sony Open, AT&T National, Wyndham Championship, St. Jude Classic, Canadian Open, John Deere Classic and Texas Open.
Most of those are products of their spot on the calendar - four are immediately before or after a major. The AT&T National, despite being played at Congressional, is two weeks after the U.S. Open, when the European Tour gets its players to go home for the meat of its schedule.
By Doug Ferguson, AP