Commentary

Lack of familiar names isn't bad thing

High-ranked players' Colonial failures show how much talent is out there

Updated: May 31, 2010, 12:47 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Splashed on the front of a mega-sized, air-conditioned tent along a main Colonial thoroughfare hung the larger-than-life faces of three of golf's premiere players: Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and defending champion Steve Stricker.

The threesome served as the headliners for a heavily promoted, star-studded field that graced the hallowed course at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. That tent, however, quickly became the only place fans could get a glimpse of the game's biggest sticks this weekend.

Mickelson, the world's No. 2-ranked golfer who could have overtaken Tiger Woods as No. 1 with a victory, and the No. 5-ranked Furyk, didn't survive to see the weekend. Stricker, ranked No. 4, barely made a peep.

Then there's No. 6 Ian Poulter, who posted one of only three over-par scores for the weekend and No. 8 Paul Casey, who stayed in the shadows of an otherwise sizzling leaderboard that over four hot and windless days displayed so many red scores it seemed impossible for anyone to finish in the black (apologies to the world's No. 6-ranked golfer).

Colonial's boast of featuring five of the world's top eight ranked golfers -- and four in the top six and 14 in the top 41 -- went belly-up.

The same can't be said for a tournament where a "who's that?" leaderboard couldn't suppress a wire-to-wire shootout that ended Sunday with a record-setting winning score (21 under) by Zach Johnson, a first-time Colonial champion. At 35th in the world rankings, Johnson was the highest-ranked player among the contenders and the most recognizable thanks to his 2007 Masters win.

Still, you might not have picked out the 5-foot-11 Iowan or British runner-up Brian Davis (19 under), or third-place finisher Jeff Overton (17 under) or third-round leader Bryce Molder (16 under) if they had stood next to you at the watering hole behind the 18th. Yet, they all finished well ahead of any of the world's top eight ranked players despite what would be a combined average world ranking of 92nd.

"It's pretty deep out here. The guys are so good and so far down the line," said Corey Pavin, who at 50 finished tied for seventh and dazzled the home crowd with a 15-under 265, a score good enough to win seven of the past 10 Colonials. "I think the easier conditions brought more people into play here this week. More people had a chance. I think when the course plays harder and anything under par is a good score, it tends to elevate the best players because the best players play well under hard conditions.

"I think you combine all that with depth of field that we have on the PGA Tour, it is unbelievable. We're seeing a lot of it this year. There's a lot of different winners and young winners. We're going to continue to see that."

You certainly can't blame Colonial's marketing team for pumping a highly ranked field that didn't deliver. But the PGA must do more to market its young, likable players and reach beyond the game's power brokers in Woods and Mickelson for the good of the PGA and its weekly Tour stops.

Rickie Fowler
Stan Badz/PGA TOURColorful characters like Rickie Fowler don't get much publicity on the PGA Tour.

In this era of monster purses (Johnson left Colonial with a $1.1 million share of the $6.2 million purse), the biggest stars discernibly set their schedules around the four majors, leaving many tour stops (Colonial included) to cross their fingers for household names -- i.e., marketable names -- to come to town.

The PGA needs to make casual fans more aware of its rising players, like colorful 21-year-old Rickie Fowler (8 under) and the 27-year-old Overton, especially for stops like Colonial, where the crowds, year after year, seem to be trending younger.

"I think I finished second twice in the last five weeks, finished third now and I'm not going to crack the top 100 in the world," said Overton, who entered Colonial ranked 122nd. "I think that just goes to show you that there's not enough emphasis on how good the 200th person in the world is. We have from 100 to 250 in the world playing every single week and I don't think there's enough credit to the rest of the guys on this tour."

Plus, there are more players than ever emerging from the minor league Nationwide Tour, like the 31-year Molder, who now has five top-10 finishes in 15 PGA Tour events this year and is on the cusp of winning.

In 24 PGA Tour events this year, 15 have been won by golfers 35 or younger and a whopping nine by golfers under 30, including three under 25.

Last week, even as a 16-year-old high school student was stealing the show at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, a terrific rags-to-riches story unfolded as 22-year-old Australian and Fort Worth resident Jason Day won his first PGA Tour championship.

Tour veteran Scott Verplank implicated the media for Tiger tunnel vision, but it's truly up to the PGA to crank up the marketing machine, get creative and get hip. There's a burgeoning crop of young, talented golfers out there, but nobody knows their names.

"Probably not. You guys pretty much promote Tiger as being the only guy that plays, just the media in general," the 45-year-old Verplank said. "But, this has been great. They've had great crowds out here. Like I said, all these guys can play and there's a lot of great golf going on right now. If you're a golf fan, the leaderboard is jam-packed and guys are making birdies. Most people like to see guys making birdies vs. par or really struggling. So I think it's pretty nice golf."

Jeff Caplan covers golf for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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