Friday, May 25, 2018

PGA Tour should treat Innisbrook tournament better

PALM HARBOR — If you spend your weekends watching golf on TV, you know there are two types of tournaments.

There are the good ones that all the big boys such as Tiger and Phil and Rory play.

And then there are the other ones.

Welcome to one of the other ones.

Welcome to the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook.

If you noticed, you didn't see Tiger or Phil or Rory the past four days. There was no Sergio, no Bubba, no Adam Scott.

Neither good Johnson — Zach nor Dustin — was here.

Only one player in the top 10 of the world rankings — Justin Rose at No. 7 — was in this year's field.

Instead, late Sunday afternoon, you saw names such as Robert Garrigus, Scott Langley, Kevin Na, Will MacKenzie, Jason Kokrak, Matteo Manassero and John Senden spraying balls all over the course — into trees, into traps and into trouble.

As Sunday drew to a close, only one name among those in contention — Luke Donald — was recognizable to the casual golf fan.

A wiseguy might say that watching Sunday's final round was like watching paint dry. Get it? Valspar? It makes paint?

Seriously, if you live around here, you probably paid attention to what was going on at Innisbrook only because you live around here. Either that or you are one of those diehard golf fans who sets his DVR to tape middle-of-the-night tournaments from Malaysia.

Heck, even NBC's lead golf analyst, Johnny Miller, takes this week off.

Look at this way: When the most newsworthy thing that happens at your tournament is the one-man circus, John Daly, blowing up and shooting 90, then you might have had a boring week.

It makes you scratch your head.

The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook is one of the most challenging on the PGA Tour. Thanks to a bit of wind, it absolutely smacked around the field in Sunday's final round.

The purse is competitive. Senden won and got a nice check of just more than $1 million.

So what gives?

Well, the fine folks who run this tournament, as well as the PGA Tour, will try to convince you that the field is better than you think.

You just couldn't tell by looking at those in contention.

True, sometimes the big names at a tournament just don't play well, or well enough. It happens.

This year's field wasn't devoid of recognizable names. Jim Furyk was here. So were Ernie Els, K.J. Choi, Jason Dufner, Justin Leonard, Padraig Harrington and Stuart Appleby.

If Sunday's first page of the leaderboard had featured those names, maybe it would have all seemed so much more exciting.

Instead, a group of mostly unknowns — talented as they may be — led the pack. And that's the way it always seems to be at Innisbrook.

Last year's winner, Kevin Streelman, had never won a PGA tournament before and hasn't won one since. And though players such as Furyk, Donald, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen have won at Innisbrook in the past, it just seems that the leaderboard is always littered with players you've never heard of.

Here's the real problem: The PGA Tour hasn't done this tournament any favors.

On the tour's four-tournament swing through Florida, the Valspar Championship is in the worst possible spot: third.

The swing starts with the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens, and everyone wants to play in that because it's the first one. Then comes Doral, and all the big names play there because it's a World Golf Championships tournament.

Then comes Innisbrook, followed this week by the tournament at Bay Hill in Orlando. That's Arnold Palmer's tournament, and everyone wants to play Arnie's tournament.

With the Masters around the corner, few players are willing to zap their energy playing all four Florida tournaments. Many players look to take one weekend off, and it simply makes sense to take off Innisbrook.

The PGA Tour could fix all this and switch the schedule at least once every three years or so. It's unlikely the tour would mess with Doral or Bay Hill, but it could flip-flop the Honda Classic and Innisbrook. Let Innisbrook go first on the swing, and that likely would draw some more big names.

Maybe Woods or Mickelson, who doesn't care for the Copperhead Course, wouldn't come, but more big names might.

Could that happen?

Don't count on it. The Honda Classic's main beneficiary is the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation, which is chaired by Barbara Nicklaus, who just happens to be the wife of the legendary Jack Nicklaus. And, oh, Nicklaus re-designed that course. It seems doubtful the PGA Tour would mess with Jack.

Still, if it had any guts, it would. And that would be the right thing to do because, truth be told, the Copperhead Course is the best course on the swing, certainly way better than Bay Hill or Nicklaus' course in Palm Beach Gardens.

In the end, it's great that we have a PGA event in town. We should be grateful. It's better to have this tournament that none at all.

But it could be better. The PGA Tour could make it better.

Until then, we'll never see Tiger or Phil or Rory or most of the big names in these parts. That's too bad because this course and this tournament deserve so much more.