Tiger surprises with change to '12 schedule

November, 17, 2011

MELBOURNE, Australia -- It has often been suggested that Tiger Woods change his schedule. Sprinkle a few new events here and there. Visit some places he hasn't been. Let others get an up-close look at the world's most famous golfer.

Woods will start his 2012 season by doing just that, but the announcement Thursday that he will play in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in the United Arab Emirates is nonetheless a shocker.

The tournament is scheduled for Jan. 26-29 -- the same dates as the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego.

Woods has won that tournament six of the 12 times he's played it. He also won the 2008 U.S. Open there, the last of his 14 major titles. Every year since 2006 that he's been healthy, Woods has opened his season at Torrey Pines.

But not this time.

"It was a tough decision,'' Woods said Thursday at the Presidents Cup. "But you know Abu Dhabi has been fantastic to our foundation. Been a partner of ours for a very long time. I played HSBC [in China] before it became a World Golf Championship [event] because of that. This is just an extension of that.''

It is also quite likely that Woods will be receiving a hefty appearance fee to play the European Tour event that is the first of three in the Middle East. Woods pocketed seven-figure fees for going to Dubai in recent years, and the purse of $2.7 million is about half of what most PGA Tour events pay.

Woods said the tournament would be his 2012 debut, but the only one he would be playing in the Middle East. He did not say where his U.S. schedule would start, but speculation will center on Pebble Beach, the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles and the Match Play Championship.

There will be no tears shed here for the Torrey Pines tournament, which has been fortunate to have Woods so many times over the years.

But it does seem a bit cold that the tournament director had to learn about it by watching TV. Woods is certainly not obligated to play the tournament -- or any tournament. And he's been hammered often about going to different places. But it would seem he or one of his representatives could have softened the blow in this case.

"When I heard the news I had a knot in my stomach,'' tournament director Peter Ripa told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Understandable. Woods played Torrey Pines with his dad as a kid, the first time he was allowed onto a championship-caliber course. He won the Junior World Amateur at Torrey Pines and all those pro titles. He was a lock to play the tournament.

Not anymore. This is a clear blow to the PGA Tour. The Farmers tournament has turned into a de facto starting point for the PGA Tour season, the week prior to the Super Bowl. The West Coast swing continues to take a beating as big money is offered in the Middle East, one of the strongest parts of the European Tour schedule.

No. 1 Luke Donald, No. 2 Rory McIlroy, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Aussie star Jason Day will also be at the Abu Dhabi tournament.

And yet, decrying appearance fees is being blind to the fact that they come in different forms on the PGA Tour. Yes, they are against the rules, but more than a handful of players have endorsements with title sponsors that work a tournament appearance into their contracts.

The PGA Tour's lucrative pension plan is another way to assure that its membership is supportive.

In Woods' case, he had to ask for a release from the tour in order to play in Abu Dhabi. And that release had to be granted. It was, so Woods is making a major change to his schedule.

Wonder what other differences we might see in 2012.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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