Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am officials were busy Wednesday getting ready for next week's Champions Tour event at the TPC of Tampa Bay, welcoming defending champion Hale Irwin to an outing at the course and announcing that Lee Trevino is the latest commitment to the tournament.
They also announced some big news that essentially means the tournament will be around for a while with Outback as title sponsor.
Outback has extended its contract for four years, starting in 2007. The original three-year deal, which came together hastily in 2003 when the event was without a title sponsor, was set to expire after next week's event. Now Outback will be around through at least 2010.
The tournament also will get network television coverage starting next year. Now, the event is part of the Champions Tour package with the Golf Channel. In 2007, the first round of the tournament will still be shown on the Golf Channel with the second and third rounds moving to NBC (Ch. 8 locally).
And the date will change, although only slightly. Next year the tournament moves up a week to Feb. 16-18, trading spots on the schedule with the ACE Group Classic in Naples. The idea is to better position the tournament to attract celebrities and athletes for the pro-am portion. It also will provide some space for the PGA Tour's Tampa Bay Championship, which will be played three weeks later.
"These moves are instrumental to the growth of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am as the premier non-major tournament on the Champions Tour," tournament director Amy Hawk said.
Outside of the majors, no other Champions Tour event has network television coverage.
Among other pros who have committed to next week's tournament are Tom Kite, Craig Stadler, Jay Haas and leading money winner Loren Roberts, who will attempt this week to become the first player in Champions Tour history to win the first three events of the year.
Celebrities committed are actors Kevin Costner and Mark Wahlberg, former NFL quarterbacks Joe Theismann and Boomer Esiason, Tampa Bay Bucs Derrick Brooks, Anthony McFarland and Ronde Barber, former Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella and former tennis star Jim Courier.
For information, call (813) 265-4653 or visit www.outbackproam.com.
VIJAY-PHIL FEUD: The bad blood between Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson that was apparent at last year's Masters - Singh charged that Mickelson's spikes were too long, a confrontation in the locker room ensued and Mickelson had to later put out a news release to diffuse the situation - continued at the recent FBR Open.
Singh and Mickelson were paired during the first two rounds of the tournament, and Mickelson routinely outdrove Singh by as much as 15 yards the second day. When Mickelson showed up for the third round on Saturday, the PGA Tour asked to test his Callaway FT3 driver to make sure it conformed to rules limiting the springlike effect, the Associated Press reported. The driver passed the test.
Although the tests are supposed to be confidential, the AP reported that Singh asked for Mickelson's driver to be tested.
HONDA UPHEAVAL: Next year's Honda Classic, which is scheduled to precede the Tampa Bay Championship and kick off the Florida Swing, is set to move from the Country Club at Mirasol to PGA National, a resort in Palm Beach Gardens that used to host the Senior PGA Championship and was home to the 1983 Ryder Cup.
The tournament began as the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic in 1972 and has had various homes since. After being played at Inverrary Golf & Country Club, it moved to the TPC at Eagle Trace in Coral Springs in 1984, then to Weston Hills in Fort Lauderdale in 1992, before a one-year return to Eagle Trace (1996), followed by six years at TPC at Heron Bay. This will be the fourth and final year at Mirasol, although the first year it was at the club's Sunset course before moving to the Sunrise course.
AROUND GOLF: Mickelson has gone only three seasons in his career without a victory during the West Coast Swing. Two of those years he failed to win a PGA Tour event. Stadler, Lanny Wadkins and Ben Crenshaw have withdrawn from this week's ACE Group Classic in Naples to attend the funeral of Dick Harmon, who died last week at age 58. Harmon, the son of former Masters champion Claude Harmon and brother of instructor Butch Harmon, also was a noted instructor. Among his pupils were Stadler and Wadkins. Tiger Woods has never won the Nissan Open, which he will play for the 11th time, the most he has played an event without a victory.