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Tiger Woods looks set to miss WGC Match Play

If Tiger Woods misses the Andersen Consulting World Match Play it will be a big blow to the event. Allsport.

Rumors about the possibility that Tiger Woods will not play the WGC Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship in Australia in January have been alarming organizers in Melbourne for weeks, and it appears those rumors are true.

Although he could still change his mind, it's likely that Woods' 2001 schedule right now does not include the Andersen Consulting.

This would be a large blow for the fledgling World Golf Championships (WGC) series of tournaments, as Tiger's defection could cause a cascade effect among the other players and damage the prestige of the events. These four rich events, with $5million purses and cooperation from all of the world's major tours, were designed to bring the world's best players together on a more regular basis - prior to their establishment the majority of the top players met just five times a year, at the majors and the Players Championship.

One of the reasons that the WGC events have succeeded thus far is that the world's biggest player has participated, and contended, in all four of them to date, winning two and finishing second in another. Tiger will defend this summer at the WGC NEC tournament in Akron, and again this fall at the WGC American Express at Valderrama, and defend as well at the World Cup, the newest WGC, in Buenos Aires in December, but has decided that Australia is too far to travel to in January.

The first round of the Match Play is scheduled for Wednesday, January 3, 2001, and given the distance, and the loss of a day with the time change, Tiger would have to leave on December 30th, which is his 25th birthday, and travel though New Year's Eve, in order to arrive to arrive in time to play two practice rounds.

It's a badly timed schedule, particularly for an elimination match play event which could see him gone from the tournament by the end of the day on Wednesday. Though Woods, a confident match play player, is probably not as worried as some about being knocked out in the first round.

The other reason the timing and distance don't work for Tiger is that he plays a heavy schedule in the fall and winter as it is, playing at least five events in October and November, as well as the World Cup in Argentina just three weeks before he'd have to travel to Australia. He also traditionally plays a strong schedule on the West Coast in January and February.

Tiger Woods' career goals are centered around the major championships and history, and he doesn't do things that interfere with those goals. If he sees a long trip to Australia as hindering his ability to perform well on the West Coast and prepare for the Masters, he won't go.

Clearly, this is not set in stone. This may be a leverage ploy with the tour. He may end up being responsible for the Concorde's first ever trans-Pacific flight. Tiger enjoys match play, and has enthusiastically played in the two previous Andersen Consulting events. Also, one of his sponsors, American Express, is an umbrella sponsor for the WGC tournaments and would obviously like to see him play in all four - however, just as with his Buick contract, Woods is reportedly only contractually obligated to play in two of the four events.

Tiger's absence from the Metropolitan Club in Melbourne next January will be the event's biggest blow, but many others among golf's stars have either said they will not come, or have said that they are undecided, but are leaning toward staying home, including David Duval, Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, José María Olazábal, and even Australia's most famous native son, Greg Norman.

The Europeans obviously have an even longer route to take to Australia than the Americans, and it might have helped them if the Heineken Classic, an official European event also played in Australia, had been scheduled for the following week, giving them more reason to go and stay. As it is, anyone wishing to play both will have to stay on in Australia for several weeks, or make two trips.

Last year's inaugural WGC events had almost universal participation for those eligible, with Jumbo Ozaki, not surprisingly, skipping the Andersen Consulting Match Play, and a handful of others, most notably David Duval, staying home during the WGC American Express Stroke Play at Valderrama.

Valderrama can expect similar defections this year, as there was widespread discontent, among the Americans at least, with the golf course. Dennis Paulson was quoted as saying that the only thing that would bring him back was the $5 million purse, for any lesser amount he would not go over. Others have, off the record, expressed similar sentiments.

Although money is increasingly less of a lure to the top players than it has ever been, it is possible that the only way to lure the best field is to raise the purses to figures that are even more significantly higher than those on offer most weeks on the PGA Tour. After all, if a regular tour stop like Doral hopes to have a $4.25 million purse next year, it's not that much of a difference from the $5 million available at the WGCs.

For years golf's best players have encouraged the formation of more world encompassing events, and specifically more significant match play events, and it will be a sad irony if they end up destroying through neglect the very tournaments they demanded.

There is no perfect solution. The fields will undeniably be better if all the WGC events are held in the United States, preferably Orlando, but that makes a mockery of the 'world' part of their title. On the other hand, they could scarcely be described as 'world' championships if they are routinely played without many of the best Americans and Europeans.

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