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BILL DWYRE

Tiger Woods RSVPs for the Frys.com Open; euphoria ensues

Think Tiger has lost his relevance? Explain that to the organizers of this PGA Fall Series event. They're reaping sponsors and attention.

September 02, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Tiger Woods laughs while waiting to tee off at the Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge golf tournament on Wednesday in Verona, N.Y.
Tiger Woods laughs while waiting to tee off at the Notah Begay III Foundation… (Kevin Rivoli / Associated…)

This column is for those who say that Tiger Woods has stopped moving the needle in golf.

Theorists say that the mess he made of his personal life has translated into a messy swing; that his body is breaking down like his messy golf swing; that the intimidation factor once worth three strokes a tournament has disappeared; that we in the media ought to stop doting on him and move on.

Perhaps, but let's travel back in time to Monday, and to the administrative offices of the Frys.com Open, a late-season PGA Tour event in Northern California.

"We had heard there was a possibility," says tournament director Ian Knight. "Our tournament president, Duke Butler, had been in touch with his people. But there were lots of other tournaments talking to him, trying to get him."

Butler gathered his team at 7:30 that morning. He had been told that it would happen that day, and the planning had already started.

"When I got the word," Knight says, "my heart went up into my throat."

But even though they knew, they needed a final confirmation, something in black and white, and even the official tweet at 11 a.m. wasn't quite as good as seeing it on the Golf Channel 15 minutes later.

"There it was," Knight said, "the Frys.com logo right next to the Tiger logo. That got my heart pumping."

It also got some cheers in the room.

Tiger was coming, and they didn't need Paul Revere to announce it. The sports broadcast bible had made it official.

Woods, of course, may turn out to be somewhere in the middle in rankings of the golfers playing, but you don't win 14 majors by age 32 and be forgotten quickly, no matter how many driveway accidents or driver duck-hooks you have.

The Frys.com Open is one of the PGA Tour's Fall Series events. These still pay large purses — $5 million at the Frys.com — but come after the four majors and the FedEx Cup and tour championship. Many name players still show up, but many more call it a season and don't resurface again until January in Hawaii. In his heyday, Woods wouldn't have been caught dead playing in San Martin, Calif., in October. But when he didn't even make the late rounds of the FedEx Cup, the chance that he might venture out on the Fall Series became real. Then, Monday, it became the stuff of dreams for the Frys.com.

"The stars lined up for us," Knight says.

So have ticket-buyers, volunteers and sponsors. Knight says that they are 40% ahead of last year in ticket sales, and a majority of that bump can be traced back to 11 a.m. Monday. He says that the first several calls they got were from media members, not quite believing. Those were followed by people wanting to grab one of the last remaining volunteer spots.

"Then the calls were people asking about tickets," Knight says.

Also calling were sponsors, wanting in.

"It was interesting how many of the people our sales staff had been calling," Knight says, "were now calling us."

Knight says that Woods' appearance was exactly the boost the tournament sought. He says that the sponsoring Fry family, from the electronics retail chain of stores, has a vision for this tournament that extends well beyond hosting a nice annual pro event each fall. A vision so clear, in fact, that the tournament was moved last year from Scottsdale, Ariz., where it began in 2007, to closer proximity to the family home in San Jose, about 20 minutes north of the current host course, the CordeValle Golf Club.

Their goal is to make this as close to a major as they can.

"Major with a small 'm,'" Knight says.

"They want it to be a premier pro golf event in Northern California," he says. "They want to draw the best players from around the world. They want to have it generate funds for the American Institute of Mathematics."

That was founded by family patriarch John Fry and is located in Palo Alto.

Knight says there is even a future name picked out for the tournament, as it generates funds for its charitable causes and grows in stature.

"The tournament would be called 'The Institute,'" he says.

There are several tour players who might be more comfortable if they called it "The Institution," but that's another story.

The tournament's best-attended day last year was its estimated 10,000 on Saturday. Knight says that they can handle 18,000 a day, including volunteers. He says the Tiger announcement will have a "ripple effect" in everything from tickets and hot dogs to security and shuttle buses.

"Tiger changes the trajectory of an event," he says.

Beyond just Tiger's appearance, there is even a competitive story line. Last year's winner was Rocco Mediate, who won by holing out four times for eagles during the event. Mediate was the main foil for Tiger's last real show as the formerly invincible Mr. Woods. That was in the 2008 U.S. Open, when Woods beat Mediate on the 19th hole of a Monday playoff at Torrey Pines.

The Frys.com Open could get a final round reprise of the Tiger-Rocco Show.

That's assuming Tiger makes the cut.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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