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Norman willing but knee is weak

Most of the high-profile players on the PGA Tour wait until the last second to commit to a tournament, even though that "commitment" is not binding. It's all about public relations and the fallout that often ensues when a player says he is coming, then says he is not.

That is why Greg Norman never officially committed to next week's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at the TPC of Tampa Bay. And that is why the tournament did not have Norman listed in the field.

But Norman is sensitive to the fact that a tournament would love to use his name as a way of promotion. Which is why he allowed Outback officials to put his face on billboards around town. And why last fall he said during a news conference at the Shark Shootout he planned to make the Outback his first tournament of the year.

Still, tournament promoters were understandably a bit nervous when Norman's official commitment was not forthcoming.

And their fears were borne out Friday when Norman informed them he would not be coming due to a minor injury. Apparently, Norman's right knee has been bothering him, enough that he might undergo an MRI that could lead to more significant surgery. If so, a good portion of his spring schedule could be wiped out.

It is unfortunate, but nobody is at fault. Players withdraw from tournaments all the time, for reasons that have nothing to do with injury. It is only the big-name ones who get scrutinized if they don't show - even though it is within their rights to pull out.

Norman would have been a great draw locally as he has never played in an official event in the area. He had good reason to be here, as the Aussie has a natural tie-in with the Outback restaurant chain. It made sense, but just didn't work out this time. No doubt, the tournament will hope to get the Shark back next year.

DECISION TIME: Kevin Stadler went to Perth, Australia, for the Johnnie Walker Classic, just looking to get some competition under his belt. The son of 1982 Masters winner Craig Stadler, Kevin lost his PGA Tour card last season and was set to play on the Nationwide Tour, which has an event this week in Australia and next week in New Zealand.

But by winning the European PGA Tour event, he receives a two-year exemption. It has opened the door to some possibilities Stadler had not considered.

"Now I have no idea what I will do," he said.

One thing Stadler might consider: A clear way back to the PGA Tour is to finish among the top 20 money-winners on the Nationwide Tour. Stadler hinted he would take up European tour membership, even if it meant playing in just a few events.

"I had thought about going over a few years ago when I was struggling (to get on the PGA Tour)," Stadler said. "I thought about going to their Q-School. I thought it would be a blast to go play over there. I've always kind of enjoyed their style of golf and had some interest in it."

ACE TOURNEY: The Champions Tour resumes this week in Naples with Loren Roberts looking to make it three in a row. He won the first two tournaments of the year, both in Hawaii. The ACE Group Classic, played at the Club of TwinEagles, has attracted 30 of the top 31 money-winners from last season. Only Jay Haas (who is playing in next week's Outback) is missing. Haas is scheduled to play this week's Nissan Open on the PGA Tour. The tournament also gave a sponsor exemption to Tampa's Gary Koch.

AROUND GOLF: Bob May, who lost to Tiger Woods in a playoff at the 2000 PGA Championship, played in his first PGA Tour event at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am since the 2003 Byron Nelson Championship, where he suffered a back injury. May finished tied for 56th. Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell moved into the 65th position Monday in the Official World Golf Ranking, getting the last spot in the field for next week's 64-player Match Play Championship. No. 6 Sergio Garcia is expected to skip the event. Australia's Craig Parry had been holding down the last spot but was bumped.

Up next:NUGGETS

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