Innisbrook doesn't draw the big names this year

Mar 8, 2007 - 12:58 AM By Andrew Both PA SportsTicker Golf Writer

PALM HARBOR, Florida (Ticker) - The Pods Championship will be played on a course that is widely regarded as one of the best on the PGA Tour. Why then are so few of the world's best players here?

Vijay Singh is the only player ranked in the top 10 in the world who will tee it up on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook starting Thursday, which shows that a quality course doesn't necessarily guarantee a quality field.

The tournament, which has a new sponsor and a new name, was the final full field event of the season last October, and everyone involved assumed that a switch to a coveted March date, a month before the Masters, would ensure an even better field in 2007.

However, the opposite has occurred. Adam Scott, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen were among those who played here in October, but are absent this year, which demonstrates just how stiff the competition has become between tournaments to attract the best players.

Scott, Els and Goosen all played in last week's Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand, where they no doubt were well compensated for their efforts, and it's no surprise that they didn't fancy flying halfway around the world and enduring a 12-hour time change for an event that doesn't pay one cent to those who miss the cut.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are absent for another reason. Next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando always attracts one of the best non-major fields of the season, and this year will be no different.

Woods and Mickelson will play there, and they and every other top player will contest the following week's CA Championship, a World Golf Championships event in Miami, with the Masters following just two weeks later.

Most top players, particularly Woods and Mickelson, do not want to play three events in a row, so something had to give, and this week's event has suffered the collateral damage.

Not that the field is completely devoid of big names. Sergio Garcia, for example, is here for the first time, and though he has dropped outside the world's top 10, he still draws a large gallery.

"I heard from a lot of players that it's a very, very nice course, the kind we enjoy," Garcia said. "Something around 10-under-par wins and that shows you it's a good, challenging course."

World No. 12 Trevor Immelman and 2007 money leader Charles Howell are among other talented players in the field, but for the most part the event will be a a golden chance for the tour's journeymen and bottom feeders to pick up a big check and a bunch of FedEx Cup points.

Rich Beem is not exactly a bottom feeder - he won the 2002 PGA Championship after all - but it's fair to say he wouldn't have been brought in for a pre-tournament interview if Woods and Mickelson were here.

"You have really got to be a good ball striker to compete on this course," Beem said. "I like this type of course, because it shows who is hitting the ball best. The last five or six champions are all great ball strikers. You are not going to get anybody (winning) who is missing a lot of fairways."

Beem's observation is astute. This is the event's seventh year, and its previous champions have been K.J. Choi (2006 and 2002), Carl Pettersson (2005), Singh (2004), Goosen (2003) and John Huston (2001).

This year's winner will probably be another quality ball-striker, even if, unless you're a golf aficionado, you may never have heard of him.

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