Fans attending this week’s FBR Open will find many of the golfers they are following to be slightly younger and more inexperienced, in general, than some of the other 132-man fields they have followed in the past.
If there is a barometer that says the 70th edition is not quite as seasoned as past editions, it is the fact that nine players from PGA Tour qualifying school and from the top 20 winners on the Nationwide Tour are entered in this year’s event. By comparison, no one from those two eligibility lists got into last year’s tournament.
But before anyone labels this latest pool of talent "shallow,’’ tournament chairman Bryon Carney of the Phoenix Thunderbirds, the civic organization that runs the FBR Open, has this perspective on the pending slugfest that starts Thursday at the TPC of Scottsdale.
"I think when we look back at the end of this season — rather than compare it to last year or previous Opens — it’s going to be the true indicator of how good this field really is,’’ Carney explained. "Yes, we’ve got more young players than ever, but they are the best young players out there, and that’s going to play out through the year.
"If anything, (having a younger field) will reap benefits down the line in ’06 and ’07, when a lot of these young guys come back here with wins behind their names.’’
Other comparisons also reveal some changes. For example, the 2004 FBR Open featured 20 of the top 30 players in the world, and 29 of the top 50. This year’s elite list, includes 15 of the top 30, and 27 of the top 50.
Money-wise, there is not much difference, as there are 20 of the top 30 moneywinners from 2004 entered here, and 38 of the top 50. Last year, those numbers were 21 of the top 30, and 39 of the top 50 from 2003.
All comparisons aside, Carney noted, the marquee is packed with world-ranked players, including the No. 1 and two-time FBR/Phoenix Open champion Vijay Singh. Other heavy hitters include Phil Mickelson (No. 5), Mike Weir (No. 8) and Stewart Cink (No. 10). Last year, there were six of the top 10, which included all of the above plus Retief Goosen and Sergio Garcia, who are currently home in South Africa and Spain, respectively.
"All I can say is, I looked at the 30 guys who are playing in Wednesday’s Silver Pro-Am, and I’d love to play with any one of them,’’ Carney said. "They are all proven players, guys like John Daly, Tom Lehman, Jose Maria Olazabal, Justin Leonard, Jay Haas, Rocco Mediate, Kirk Triplett and Mark Calcavecchia, to name just a few.
"And don’t forget, we’ve got three of the four major championship winners from last year in Vijay (PGA), Phil Mickelson (Masters) and Todd Hamilton (British Open).’’
Carney’s point is welltaken, although he concedes that some of the regulars from the past are missing. And, of course, Tiger Woods (No. 2 in the world) is not in the field for a fourth straight year.
So why are Woods and other highly ranked players like Goosen, Garcia, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Davis Love III and Darren Clarke skipping the FBR?
And why are staunch supporters like Jim Furyk, Jerry Kelly, Fred Funk, Chris Riley and Mark O’Meara also missing?
Is the FBR’s $5.2 million purse now "chump change,’’ as it ranks no better than a tie for 22nd out of 48 events in terms of payouts for 2005? Does having to go up against the Super Bowl on Sunday amount to a blocked field goal when it comes to attracting top talent?
Chances are the answers to these questions are just plain silly, as in the 10 "silly season’’ events that go on from early November until mid-December. Those bigmoney, made-for-TV events tend to shorten the offseason for the Tour’s best players and weaken the fields for the early tournaments on the West Coast swing.
"A lot of these great players are just plain tired by the time our tournament rolls around,’’ Carney said.
A conflicting event in Australia, the Heineken Open, also knocked Els, Adam Scott and Stuart Appleby out of the FBR. And Clarke, who reportedly had planned to start his season here, is at home with his wife who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
So instead of the many of the big boys the FBR usually attracts, the tournament will get a lot of new talent, players like the Scottsdale trio of Rob Rashell, Joey Snyder III and Jason Allred, as well as Brian Davis, D.A. Points, Ryuji Imada, Paul Claxton and Sean O’Hair. Also in that group is Bill Haas, who received the fifth and final sponsor’s exemption from Carney on Friday night.
"Bill Haas is an up-and-coming superstar, and we want to build that relationship so we can have him here every year,’’ said Carney, noting that Haas, 22, and his 51-year-old father Jay will be the first father and son in the history of the FBR/Phoenix Open to play at the same time.
2005 FBR Open field
In alphabetical order
Steve Allan Stephen Leaney Michael Allen Tom Lehman Robert Allenby Justin Leonard Stephen Ames Thomas Levet Tommy Armour III J.L. Lewis Woody Austin Frank Lickliter II Paul Azinger Steve Lowery Aaron Baddeley Andrew Magee Briny Baird Jeff Maggert Brian Bateman Hunter Mahan Cameron Beckman Shigeki Maruyama Rich Beem Len Mattiace Danny Briggs Billy Mayfair Mark Brooks Scott McCarron Bart Bryant Rocco Mediate Jonathan Byrd Shaun Micheel Tom Byrum Phil Mickelson Mark Calcavecchia Kevin Na Chad Campbell Sean O’Hair Jim Carter Arron Oberholser Alex Cejka Joe Ogilvie K.J. Choi Geoff Ogilvy Daniel Chopra J. Maria Olazabal Stewart Cink Ryan Palmer Paul Claxton Jesper Parnevik Ben Crane Pat Perez Ben Curtis Craig Perks John Daly Tom Pernice, Jr. Robert Damron Chris Perry Brian Davis Kenny Perry Chris DiMarco Tim Petrovic Luke Donald Carl Pettersson Steve Elkington D.A. Points Bob Estes Ted Purdy Todd Fischer Brett Quigley Steve Flesch Rob Rashell Carlos Franco Tag Ridings Harrison Frazar John Riegger Robert Gamez John Rollins Brian Gay Rory Sabbatini Brent Geiberger John Senden Matt Gogel Patrick Sheehan Bill Haas Joey Sindelar Jay Haas Vijay Singh Todd Hamilton Heath Slocum Dudley Hart Jeff Sluman J.J. Henry Chris Smith Mark Hensby Joey Snyder III Tim Herron Paul Stankowski Glen Hnatiuk Andre Stolz Charles Howell III Kevin Sutherland John Huston Hal Sutton Ryuji Imada Hidemichi Tanaka Fredrik Jacobson Vaughn Taylor Lee Janzen David Toms Brandt Jobe Kirk Triplett Zach Johnson Bob Tway Kent Jones Bo Van Pelt Steve Jones Scott Verplank Jonathan Kaye Duffy Waldorf Skip Kendall Nick Watney Hank Kuehne Mike Weir Neal Lancaster Jay Williamson Bernhard Langer Don Yrene Franklin Langham