Golf

Woods, Els make fall PGA event big deal

Sports Xchange TOM LAMARRE
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Ian Knight is the envy of tournament directors around the PGA Tour.

Officials of several outstanding events on the circuit know they have zero chance for Tiger Woods to commit to their events, and they can only hope to land Ernie Els.

Knight has had both of them fall in his lap for the Frys.com Open this week at CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, Calif., the second event of the Fall Series.

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"Having Tiger, Ernie and the other great players in our field dramatically changes the trajectory of our event," Knight told The Sports Xchange of their impact on the Frys, which got off to a dramatic start in its first playing at CordeValle last year when Rocco Mediate holed out for eagle all four days to claim a one-stroke victory.

"We've had several weeks to take advantage of having Tiger and Ernie in our marketing campaign. We are way ahead in ticket sales, almost triple the number, and we're hoping to be sold out."

A year ago, the Frys.com Open was going up against the San Francisco Giants' run to the World Series title, opening night for the San Jose Sharks and the Oakland Raiders facing the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Still, the tournament had a solid four-day run, and with not quite so much going on this week, the event should be able to gain a larger share of the Northern California media coverage and fan interest.

However, tournament officials are focused on the future as well as the present.

"The long-term goal for Frys is to make this tournament a world-class event for Northern California," said Knight, who was director of sales and marketing for the 2009 Presidents Cup at Harding Park in San Francisco.

"We have an opportunity this year to take the tournament to the next level. Frys has been in talks with the PGA Tour about eventually moving the event into the regular season.

"Northern California is a great venue for the PGA Tour. The entire San Francisco Bay Area is the second-largest total market behind only to the New York area. And there is a long window of good weather for a tournament here, from early April through early November."

Northern California has long been a fertile golf area.

The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (still The Crosby to purists) has been a staple of the PGA Tour since 1937.

The Lucky International Open was played at Harding Park from 1961-69. Among its winners: Gary Player, Ken Venturi, Billy Casper, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Gene Littler, Jack Burke Jr. and George Archer.

Silverado Resort in Napa was host to the Kaiser International Open, which became the Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic from 1968-80. The tournament's champions included Casper, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Miller Barber, Calvin Peete and John Mahaffey.

Byron Nelson won the old San Francisco Open in 1944 and 1946 at Harding Park, and the famed Olympic Club was host to the U.S. Open in 1955, 1966, 1987 and 1998 and will be the site of the event again next June.

In addition, Northern California has produced such greats as Venturi, Miller, Archer, Tony Lema and Bob Rosburg, among others. In addition, adopted sons Watson, Woods and Lawson Little all played at Stanford, a bit south of San Francisco.

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Knight and his staff have bolstered their field for the Frys by landing major champions Louis Oosthuizen, Angel Cabrera, David Duval, Steve Elkington, Justin Leonard, Ben Curtis and Lee Janzen.

And there will be a local presence, too.

Among the players in the field with NorCal roots are Ricky Barnes, Spencer Levin, Kevin Chappell, Joseph Bramlett, Zack Miller, Tom Pernice Jr., Matt Bettencourt, Nate Smith, Peter Tomasulo and Charlie Wi.

Of course, all the names pale in comparison to Woods, the erstwhile top-ranked player in the game who is trying to get his game in shape ahead of the Presidents Cup next month at Royal Melbourne.

Love him or hate him, people will watch the next episode of what has turned into something of a real-life soap opera. Talk about a reality series.

Woods is trying to make a comeback from a tabloid sex scandal that led to his divorce from Elin Nordegren, injuries to his left leg and swing changes implemented under instructor Sean Foley.

"I always enjoy competing in my home state, and this tournament fits my schedule perfectly," said Woods, who has not played since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

"I'm looking forward to seeing some old friends. John Fry and his company have supported the Tour, and I've heard good things about the event and the golf course."

Woods has won 12 PGA Tour titles in California, including U.S. Opens in 2000 at Pebble Beach and at Torrey Pines in 2008.

Going home is one thing, but what he really needs is to be at home on the course again.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Tom Watson, Zack Miller, Miller Barber, Charlie Wi, John Mahaffey, Johnny Miller, Tom Pernice, Jr., Gary Player

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