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The International is cancelled due to lack of sponsor

The International, known for its unique scoring system on a Castle Pines golf course held in the mile-high air outside Denver, will no longer be on the PGA Tour schedule effective immediately, a tour official said Wednesday.

The absence of a corporate sponsor was mostly responsible for canceling the 21-year-old tournament, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not formally been announced.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and tournament founder Jack Vickers were expected to make it official Thursday morning. They spent the last two weeks in a final effort to find a sponsor, then agreed to end it now.

International spokeswoman Joanna Busack said Vickers would not comment until Thursday.

The cancellation leaves a hole in the PGA Tour schedule on July 5-8, but tour officials have been working on a contingency plan over the last month and are expected to announce a replacement by April.

The leading candidate is Washington, the largest U.S. market without a PGA Tour event. The nation's capital had a tour event since 1968, but that presumably ended when title sponsor Booz Allen bailed out last year because it was not part of the FedExCup portion of the PGA Tour schedule.

Other markets under consideration are Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Kansas City.

The tour official said there was sponsorship interest in several major markets, although none of those sponsors was interested in the International.

The International began in 1986 and used a modified Stableford scoring system, rewarding points for eagles and birdies and deducting points for bogeys or worse. It promoted aggressive play and featured some dramatic finishes, along with a roll call of champions that included Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson.

Dean Wilson won last year in a playoff over Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman.

"It's a good thing I had this format this week," Wilson said. He would have been 9 under par in stroke play, while Lehman would have finished at 13 under.

Tiger Woods only played twice, the last time in 1999 when it was played a week after the PGA Championship, and that became an issue with Vickers. He often lamented the absence of golf's top draw, and he continued to ask the tour for different dates. It moved from a week after the PGA Championship to two weeks before the final major, then the week before the PGA.

It was given a summer date for 2007, but that didn't help the tournament find a corporate sponsor. The base cost for regular PGA Tour events is in the neighborhood of $6 million, but hospitality and client entertainment typically take PGA sponsorship to $8.5 million.

The tour official cited a decline in TV ratings -- part of that brought on by weather delays in August -- and staging the tournament the week of Fourth of July in Colorado as reasons prospective sponsors found the $8.5 million cost hard to justify.

The International has been without a title sponsor since 1999, and without any corporate sponsorship since 2003.

The Fourth of July slot on the schedule had belonged to the Western Open, which now is part of the FedExCup "playoffs" that begin in August two weeks after the PGA Championship.

Losing the Washington market under the new FedExCup schedule brought the greatest outcry. The PGA Tour had been in the nation's capital since 1980, when it moved to Congressional, but the tournament began losing some appeal when it moved to the TPC Avenel in 1987. There were plans for a massive overhaul of Avenel that were halted when Booz Allen pulled out.

One possibility is the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in northern Virginia, which has hosted the Presidents Cup four times.

But the tour official said the search was not limited to Washington, and much would depend on a deal with prospective sponsors and what would be the best fit for that time of the year.

All the official could say is that the PGA Tour expects to have a "top tier" event July 5-8 -- and that it won't be the International.

February 8, 2007

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