• Out of Bounds

Tiger puts pay for play in the spotlight

ESPN staff
July 11, 2012
Tiger Woods is back to commanding more than seven figures in appearance fees © Getty Images

Ted Porter Jr, a journeyman professional if ever there was one, received a cheque for just north of $1 million after his win at the Greenbrier Classic last weekend.

It was a life-changing win for the American, and a life-changing sum of money to go with it. One player earned more than Porter for his play at the Old White TPC, however - and that person did not even make the cut.

Tiger Woods, fresh off his win at the AT&T National, reportedly scooped around $1.5 million (some of which, in fairness, apparently went straight to his charity) in what effectively amounts to an appearance fee for playing the event in West Virginia.

Phil Mickelson, similarly persuaded to attend, secured roughly what Porter did ($1m) - despite also missing the cut.

Putting aside for one moment just how much Tiger can really need the money - hasn't he got enough, at this point, to play only when he feels like it, with no other affecting criteria? - it does give a bit of an insight into a dislikeable side of the 14-time major winner.

With a Nike media shoot booked for the Monday, Woods did not turn up at the Greenbrier until Tuesday, leaving himself barely more than a day to practise and get to know a course he has never previously played in a tournament.

That proved impossible; Woods misreading putts and hitting the ball the wrong distances as he fell outside the cutline. But who cares, right? He got paid regardless.

"I drove it really good today and I just did not have the feel for the distances," Woods said, failing to acknowledge his main problem was one easily solved by another day or so on the course. "The ball was just going forever.

"I know it's hot. I know we're at altitude. My sand wedge is going 142, 145; wedge is 160. These are numbers that I don't normally hit. Some of the bigger guys hit those numbers, but I don't. And I was really struggling to get the ball at the right number."

Mickelson proved a similar story, although in truth the left-hander has not been in form for a number of weeks now. Nevertheless, tournament resort owner Jim Justice effectively ended up paying $2.5m for two players to go through the motions for two rounds and go home.

What is so galling is that it is only the players who win out of this deal - Justice doesn't really (yes, Woods and Mickelson turned up, but their sub-standard display and detached attitude ironically only served to highlight how little they obviously think of the tournament) and fans who bought weekend tickets on the strength of the big-name headliners were left to watch Porter Jr duke it out with the equally unheralded Troy Kelly for the victory.

Woods would not dream of preparing so poorly for a major event, or indeed any top-tier PGA Tour tournament. He often makes more than one reconnaissance trip to host courses ahead of majors, and will play at least Tuesday and Wednesday before a regular tour stop.

But the Greenbrier was never part of his thinking until Justice's 'Godfather offer' turned up - and even then it barely became a concern.

We would not even know about Woods' payment - although such arrangements have long been suspected - if a few disgruntled figures from in and around the PGA Tour had not revealed and substantiated it to an American website, CBS Sports. Appearance fees are technically prohibited on the PGA Tour - a rule that Woods probably adherred to by taking the cheque from Justice for a related appearance at a corporate event, with an unspoken agreement that he would also tee it up at the tournament.

Fans crowded to see Tiger at the Greenbrier - but only for two days © PA Photos

The PGA Tour, of course, is far from hurt if Woods (and the extra TV ratings he brings) decides to turn up for an extra event - so there is little incentive for them to step in. "I think the tour is complicit, frankly," is what one source told CBS Sports. The problem, though, is Justice's money prevents another tournament from competing on merit to get Woods to attend, or attracting him without the seven-figure upfront fee the market now deems is needed.

"We don't have the resources to throw another $1 million into the budget to buy players," one "middle-tier tournament director" was quoted as saying. "It just doesn't fit our tournament model ... It's not a fair fight."

That's one argument; another is that it's not necessarily the best move that the PGA Tour, officially at least, bans the payment of appearance fees at all. With European Tour events able to offer such sweeteners (even if only a few do) and other events around the world (particularly in Asia and Oceania) often treading that route to bring in the big names, the majority of PGA Tour events almost have to go down that route in order get a Woods or a Mickelson to make more than the minimum appearances they need to keep their card and maintain their world ranking.

Perhaps the PGA should make them legal - and make the amounts paid public while they are at it. At least that way the fans, the other directors and the other players would know exactly where everyone stood.

Because the current situation allows players to make a mockery of the system, cashing a cheque that guarantees their physical presence but can never truly force their mental commitment. In the process, they disrespect both those that directly (tournament owners) and indirectly (paying spectators) pay their lucrative sweeteners.

And it isn't right.

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