AT&T National Notebook: Finchem says loss of PGA Tour events unlikely

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The soft economy is still a challenge, says PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, but he feels good about where the Tour is headed.
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Associated Press

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Published: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 | 11:54 p.m.

Even as the economy continues to lag and the PGA Tour is looking for a half-dozen title sponsors, Commissioner Tim Finchem doesn’t envision a smaller schedule in the next few years.

Over the last two years, the tour has either renewed contracts or found new title sponsors for 12 tournaments. The immediate goal is to find title sponsors for Hilton Head and the World Golf Championship at Doral. Finchem said Wednesday the tour is having “conversations” with various companies that are interested in those events and “we feel good about where we’re headed.”

As for contraction?

“We have to have sponsorship to put on events, so if it got to a point where sponsorship wasn’t available, it’s always a possibility,” he said. “But candidly, we are on track with where we are in most years, good or bad economy, in terms of the amount of work we have to do either to renew sponsors or bring in new sponsors.

“I think the market is soft generally,” he added. “But for our product, it continues to perform well, and we don’t anticipate any need for contraction.”

A full schedule -- the tour has 47 tournaments over 44 weeks -- means getting players to compete in more events. One proposal is to designate tournaments with weaker fields and require top players to play in at least one of those.

Finchem said that was still a few months away from being ironed out, with no guarantee it will be done. For it to be approved for the 2011 season, he said any plan would have to be approved twice by the policy board. He also would want the fourth quarter of the year to explain it to the players.

“I would suspect in the next two months -- 90 days, maybe -- we need to finish it up,” Finchem said. “Certainly by September.”

LONG DAY: Kevin Sutherland can’t say he didn’t get a good look at Aronimink before the AT&T National.

Sutherland was the first alternate for the morning pro-am, meaning he had to be at the course by 6:30 a.m., then wait until the final group was done before he could leave. He told his wife and son he would probably be back by about 10:30 a.m.

But instead of letting a beautiful morning go to waste, Sutherland decided to play the course ahead of the pro-am. So he teed off 10 minutes ahead of Tiger Woods and had the course to himself.

But not for long.

“I’m on the seventh green when I get a tap on the shoulder,” Sutherland said.

One of the players had withdrawn, and Sutherland had to take a cart back to the first tee, meet his three amateur partners and tee off for a five-hour round of 18 holes.

“I wound up playing 25 holes today,” he said before heading back to his hotel.

No one was more surprised than Brian Smith, the caddie for Justin Leonard. They were on the back nine when he looked over and saw Sutherland playing along on the seventh green. When Leonard was on the third green, Smith noticed Sutherland teeing off on No. 8, this time with three amateurs.

TIGER’S DEFENSE: Tiger Woods tends to play the same tournaments each year. He also tends to win a lot.

When he tees off Thursday at the AT&T National, he will be trying to successfully defend his title for the 23rd time on the PGA Tour. But this might be tougher than some of the others.

In his 22 previous title defenses, Woods won back-to-back on a different golf course only five times -- the PGA Championship (Medinah in 1999, Valhalla in 2000), the WGC-American Express Championship (Ireland in 2002, Atlanta in 2003), the British Open (St. Andrews in 2005, Hoylake in 2006), the WGC-American Express Championship (San Francisco in 2005, London in 2006), and again the PGA Championship (Medinah in 2006, Southern Hills in 2007).