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Doral won't be the same for some in 2007

For some players, there is no better feeling than getting off the plane at Miami International Airport and feeling a blast of tropical air, a warm signal that the Florida swing is starting and the Masters is not far away.

Billy Mayfair has played at Doral every year since he was a rookie in 1989.

"I've always loved this place," Mayfair said. "You're coming off California, where you're used to wearing sweaters and turtlenecks. You come here and it's 90 degrees and perfect greens."

But as he finished the Ford Championship at Doral, Mayfair could only wonder if his tradition would continue.

Doral will be home to a World Golf Championship next year, a limited field for only the top 50 in the world ranking and leading money-winners from six tours around the world. There were only 69 players at Harding Park last year, including Warren Abery, Neil Cheetham and Jyoti Randhawa.

"If I don't play well the rest of the year, I might not be here," said Mayfair, who is No. 78 in the world. "That probably was the most disappointing thing I saw on next year's schedule."

It's the first time a regular PGA Tour stop has been converted into an elite tournament with a small field. La Costa Resort near San Diego hosted the Mercedes Championships until it got the Match Play Championship in 1999, but the Mercedes (winners only) has an even smaller field.

The PGA Tour has been going to Doral since 1962. Only two other courses -- Augusta National and Pebble Beach -- have had the same tournament longer without interruption.

Two-time Doral winner Steve Elkington has come to the Blue Monster every year since 1988, and he remembers seeing all the champions on the wall -- Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd, Greg Norman, Tom Weiskopf, Lee Trevino.

"I figured they played this course for a reason, and they've played it well for a reason," Elkington said. "I've always like this tournament. I hope I'm in the top 156 next year."

Elkington, who is No. 61 in the world, apparently confused it for a 156-man field in the late spring.

"Isn't it top 156? It's top 50?" he said.

He paused, then added, "There's not much we can do about it. I don't think they'll let you in a World Championship as a past champion."

Others who have never missed a year since 1989 are Bob Tway, Paul Azinger and John Huston. None are likely to be back next year unless they play well and get into the top 50 in the world or the top 30 on the PGA Tour money list.

"I think it's awful," Azinger said. "You build a history, you build a tradition at a site, then change it all up. I think it's a really sad day when an exempt player can't play at Doral."

March 8, 2006

 




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