Miami: Tom Lehman hasn't played at the Doral Golf Resort in 15 years. What he wouldn't give for one of the 74 tee times this week on the Blue Monster. Instead, the former Ryder Cup captain will be out of work for two of the next three weeks, one of which will be spent on his couch during the Masters. Part of that is his own fault for not playing better. Part of that is a revamped Florida swing that has taken some of the sizzle out of the spring. For years, players on the US PGA Tour have headed north out of Orlando after the Bay Hill Invitational on their way to The Players Championship. This year, the tour is going south in more way than one. It's not so much that Doral is now at the end of March, making it the final chance for players to earn a spot in the Masters. Rather, it has been folded into the World Golf Championships. That, in effect, has cut the size of the field, and the opportunities, in half. This follows the Bay Hill, now Arnold Palmer, Invitational, which had only a 120-man field. The reality sunk in late Sunday afternoon when Lehman recorded his first top 10 in seven months. He started the final round tied with eventual winner Vijay Singh, closed with a 72 and wound up tied for fifth. Lehman made a brief appearance in the media center, curious to see what that would do for his world ranking. He was No. 80 and needed to be among the top 50 to qualify for the CA Championship at Doral. After going through some quick calculations, he saw that he would only move up to No. 68. "Ah, shoot," Lehman said.Then he turned and walked out the door. Lehman has never been a big fan of small fields except for the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship or the Tour Championship, held at the end of the year for the top 30 on the U.S. tour. "I've always been a believer that if you want to have your best tournaments, it should be a full-field tournament, especially next week," he said. "The only problem I have with Doral being a short field is it's the final week before you qualify for the Masters. "I need another week. And I don't get it now," he said. "It's my fault I didn't play well enough to get there, but it would have been nice to have one more week." Brad Faxon was busy Monday morning, but he wasn't working on his swing. He laughed, because Bay Hill was a brute for him. And then? This will be the third straight year Faxon has missed the Masters, and the first time in three years he is not going to Miami. Then there's Bob Tway. The former PGA champion has played Doral every year since 1985, but had no hope of getting to one of his favorite courses. Scott Verplank nearly won Doral a few years ago until Craig Parry holed a 6-iron from the 18th fairway to win a playoff. He knew it was a long shot to get in this year, and Verplank was quick to joke that he probably was ranked behind someone who finished third on the Japan PGA Tour. Best players The change at Doral is not bad because of the calendar, but because of the field. Vaughn Taylor is out. Hennie Otto is in. Darren Clarke won't be playing the Blue Monster. Prom Meesawat will. The World Golf Championships have lost some zip the last few years, even when Tiger Woods wins them, which is often. They were designed to bring together the best players in the world. Now, the WGCs are best identified by players hardly anyone knows. And a popular PGA Tour destination is worse off because of it. The WGCs were a good idea when they were formed in 1999, but that was when the world's best players rarely got together outside the major championships. In this global environment of golf, the WGCs have quietly gone away, except they took Doral with them. The Accenture Match Play Championship really is the only one left, and probably will stick around because of the format. The Bridgestone Invitational remains at Firestone, but look what it replaced in '99, the World Series of Golf, which already was a WGC without the fancy title. The other was the American Express Championship _ now CA Championship with a new title sponsor that alternated venues between the United States and Europe. Now it has been folded into Doral. Instead of 144 players trying to keep it out of the white sand and blue water, there will be a 74-man field playing for free money. And there will be 70 other guys, more, really, considering the many non-PGA Tour members at Doral, who are home this week. Worse yet, this is the last week to qualify for the Masters. The top 50 in the world ranking and the top 10 on the PGA Tour money list will get that trip down Magnolia Lane, but as Lehman found out Sunday, it's tough to break into the top 50 when you don't tee it up. Instead of holding out hope, several players already knew their fate when the Florida Swing was half over. No one would argue that the answer is always to play better. But at least they should have a chance.
Topics : Golf