BY RODNEY PAGE | Times Staff Writer
Tiger Woods has decided to stay home in Orlando this week instead of playing at the PODS Championship in Palm Harbor. ¶ Big deal. Woods hasn't played at Innisbrook since 1996, when he teamed with Kelli Kuehne to tie for second in the JCPenney Classic. ¶ Tournament director Gerald Goodman is just doing his job when he says: "When I get my chance to talk to him, I take it. I just tell him, 'Hey, it's been awhile since you've been to Tampa. Your fans would love to see you. We'd love to have you. We'll keep trying.' " ¶ We'd like to offer 10 reasons this bay area stop is as good as any on the PGA Tour even if the top-ranked player in the world prefers puttering around his Isleworth mansion grounds.
It's hot and your favorite golfers are on the other side of the course. Check out the new Irish Pub-themed area between the 18th green and 10th tee. And the expanded Hooters restaurant area around the 17th green. Both are good places to do people watching.
America's favorite golf partner is back thanks to a sponsor's exemption. Never mind that he hasn't won since 2004 or that he missed 15 of 24 cuts in 2007. Fans love him because he's flawed. He drinks, smokes and eats whatever the heck he wants. Daly, 41, still booms his drives and has a nice touch around the greens. He can shoot 65 or 85, so every round is exciting.
There is one amateur in the field, Tarpon Springs native Patrick Olive. Four pros will qualify Monday. These are the grinders who make up a tour field, and sometimes one makes some noise. And there's always David Duval, whose game fell off the map after being ranked No. 1 in the world in 1999.
Fred Couples, Paul Azinger, John Huston, Davis Love, Lee Janzen, Mark Calcavecchia, above, and Kenny Perry can still swing it. They were kicking butt on the tour when Woods was using plastic clubs. They average 46 years old but have combined for 83 PGA Tour wins.
Watch and learn
The range is right behind the ninth green, and the practice green is between the ninth and 10th holes. When pros practice, they don't waste their time. It's not always blasting a driver on the range or making 50-foot putts on the green. The pros will practice half-wedges or 5-foot putts. It's a great place to pick up tips for your game.
The young guns
Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes can hit it a mile. Jason Day is a rookie from Australia who is supposed to be the next big thing. Ryuji Imada is a Chamberlain High grad who can make some noise. Boo Weekley is in his second full season and has already won on tour. "Bubba Watson is a young guy who hits it forever and is capable of winning every week," said Mark Calcavecchia, the 2007 PODS champion. "Charles Howell is only 28, so I think he's still young even though he's more like a veteran."
You can't do what they do
These are some of the best golfers in the world, including No. 3 Steve Stricker, No. 4 Ernie Els, No. 7 Justin Rose, No. 15 Stewart Cink, and you're standing just feet away from them. Do yourself a favor and watch as they drive down the narrow par-4 10th. They will hit it on the screws and calmly hand the club to their caddie. Or check out a bunker shot and watch how many stop next to the hole. You don't see that at your local club, which is why you're on the other side of the ropes.
The Copperhead Course is a great tract. There is clear viewing on just about every hole, and with no Woods, there won't be huge, sweaty galleries. One of the best places to linger is behind the 15th green, where you can watch golfers hit off the 14th fairway, hit into the 15th green and tee off on the picturesque 16th hole. Although there is a lull in the action, check out those crazy looking fox squirrels that roam the course.
FedEx Cup points
Once a last-chance tournament to stay in the top 125 on the money list, the PODS Championship's move to the March Florida Swing last year made it more relevant to the top players vying for cup points. There are 25,000 FedEx Cup points at stake (4,500 for the winner), and though the PODS is just one of 33 regular-season tournaments with cup points, it's one Woods is not playing, so others can make a move.
And the No. 1 reason is …
With Woods out, the tournament is wide open. Mark Calcavecchia is back, but there hasn't been a repeat champion since it became a PGA event in 2000. Former champs Retief Goosen (2003) and Carl Pettersson (2005) return as well. It could be a big name such as Ernie Els, or a grinder such as Jerry Kelly or Bart Bryant. One thing is certain, a Woods win is not inevitable.
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8810.