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LPGA may only have 3 majors in 2001

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the LPGA Tour might have only three major championships on its schedule unless it can find a new title sponsor for the du Maurier Classic in Canada, commissioner Ty Votaw said.

"I don't think the world will stop spinning if that happens,'' Votaw said. "Ideally, it would be better to have four, and we might very well have four. But we also might have three.''

He expects to announce a decision in the next 45 days.

The du Maurier Classic, a major championship since 1979, is one of the most popular events on the LPGA Tour because it rotates among top courses in Canada. But it ran into trouble three years ago when legislation banned tobacco companies from sponsoring sports and cultural events.

du Maurier is a leading cigarette brand for Imperial Tobacco.

Jean-Paul Blais, a former du Maurier president, has been trying to find a sponsor to keep the tournament in Canada, and to retain its major championship status.

Votaw said the only thing certain is that the final du Maurier Classic will be played Aug. 10-13 at Royal Ottawa, where defending champion Karrie Webb will try to become the first player in 14 years to win three majors.

If she wins, the 25-year-old Australian will receive a $1 million bonus, unprecedented in women's golf.

If a new sponsor cannot be found, the LPGA would be looking for another major. Tournaments said to have expressed interest are the Japan Airlines Big Apple Classic and the Rochester International.

The most likely replacement would be the Women's British Open, sponsored by Weetabix. The next four Women's British Opens are scheduled for Royal Birkdale, Sunningdale, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and Turnberry. Three of those courses are on the men's rotation.

Still, Votaw said he is in no hurry. He wants to make sure any replacement can meet the standards for a major championship, and stick around for years to come.

"We're not going to do it just to have four majors, and then face the same questions two or three years from now,'' he said.

The last time the LPGA had only three majors was in 1982, the year before the Dinah Shore - now called the Nabisco Championship - was added.

There have been times throughout its 50-year history when the LPGA had only two majors -- the LPGA and the U.S. Open. Two other tournaments that were majors -- the Titleholders and Western Open -- no longer exist.

When legislation banning tobacco sponsorship was passed in 1997, it gave companies a five-year transition period. But after this year, it no longer makes financial sense for a company like du Maurier to sponsor a tournament.

It would be limited to on-site advertising only, and the name could appear only on the bottom 10 percent of signs.

Votaw plans to meet with Blais during the next two weeks leading into du Maurier before deciding whether a different major -- or no other major -- will be designated on the 2001 schedule.


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