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Sponsor hunt in Innisbrook PGA event spotlight

Luke Donald of England tees off Saturday on the 16th hole during the second round of the WGC -Cadillac Championship at Doral

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Luke Donald of England tees off Saturday on the 16th hole during the second round of the WGC -Cadillac Championship at Doral

This has not been the best year for professional golf in Tampa Bay.

In December, the area lost its Champions Tour event in Tampa after a 25-year run due to lack of a title sponsor. The PGA Tour event in Palm Harbor could reach a similar fate if it doesn't secure a title sponsor for 2014.

There is a glimmer of hope for the PGA event, however. EverBank of Jacksonville signed on as a one-year presenting sponsor. The official name of this week's tournament is the Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank.

Think of it as a test drive. EverBank officials will spend the week kicking the tires at Innisbrook while tournament officials will bend over backward to impress.

"We're certainly looking forward to working with (EverBank) and giving them a tremendous experience,'' tournament director Kevin Krisle said.

Having a presenting sponsor turn into a title sponsor has happened before. Farmer's Insurance did it in 2010 in San Diego.

"It's not unprecedented,'' Krisle said. "We've seen sponsors come in on a short window and then turn into sponsorships. We'll see.''

But if EverBank doesn't extend its contract, then Tampa Bay could be left out in the cold. There has been a PGA Tour event in Palm Harbor since 2000. Including the JCPenney Classic mixed tournament, professional golf has been in Pinellas County since 1977.

This could be the last chance to see some of the best golfers in the world locally. Four of the top 10 in the world rankings will play at Innisbrook this week (but as usual, no Tiger Woods, and no Rory McIlroy, either). No. 4 Brandt Snedeker was originally in the field but withdrew Friday because of an unspecified injury.

The highest-ranked player is No. 3 Luke Donald. He also is the defending champion.

"I always enjoy coming back to a place where I've won before,'' said Donald, who survived a four-man playoff last year.

"I know that I can win around this place, and my game is good enough to win there. It's more about feeding off those good vibes and trying to recreate them.''

Here are the other top-10 players in the field and what they've done to earn their ranking:

No. 6 Louis Oosthuzien: He has one win most people have heard of, the 2010 British Open, but he has six wins on the European Tour and lost in a playoff at the Masters last year. At 30, he is entering his prime. Oosthuzien's only previous appearance in Palm Harbor was last year, when he tied for 20th.

No. 7 Adam Scott: He has won eight times on the PGA Tour, and counting international tournaments, he has won at least once every year for the past 12 years. Scott finished second at the British Open last year. His best performance at Innisbrook was a tie for 28th in 2010.

No. 8 Matt Kuchar: He already has three top-10 finishes this year and won the Match Play Championship last month. Kuchar won the Players Championship in 2012 and tied for third at the Masters. He has been one of the hottest golfers on the tour over the past few years. Last year he tied for 10th at the Innisbrook tournament, his best finish in four starts.

.fast facts

Tampa Bay Championship

When/where: Thursday-Sunday; Innisbrook Resort, Copperhead Course, Palm Harbor

Purse: $5.5 million ($990,000 winner)

Defending champion: Luke Donald

TV: Thursday-Friday, 3 p.m., Golf Channel; Saturday-Sunday, 1 p.m., Golf Channel, and 3 p.m., Ch. 8

Schedule: Monday — Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy Pro-Am; Tuesday — Professional practice rounds; Wednesday — Pro-am; Thursday — First round (Tee times begin at 7 a.m.); Friday — Second round (Tee times begin at 7 a.m.); Saturday — Third round; Sunday — Final round.

Tickets: Daily tickets (Wednesday-Sunday) $30, can be bought and printed at tampabaychampionship.com or bought at the gate. Weekly ticket booklets $65. Admission Monday and Tuesday free. Children 15 and under admitted free with a paying adult for all sessions. Active and retired military with a valid ID card admitted free; email golf@thecopperheads.org for instructions on how to get your tickets. More information, including Hooters Owl's Nest tickets: tampabaychampionship.com.

Sponsor hunt in Innisbrook PGA event spotlight 03/09/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 9, 2013 9:32pm]

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