World Golf events living up to their name

3/22/2007 - Golf

MIAMI -- They are World Golf Championship events in name only, big-money tournaments that attract the best in golf but are now played exclusively within the borders of the good ol' USA.

That has more than a few among golf's elite shaking their heads, wondering how you can call it a "world" event when none of them move around the world.

Maybe they were just looking at it the wrong way.

It was just one day, but Thursday's leaderboard at the CA Championship showed another reason why this can be called a World Golf Championship event. Just five Americans occupy the top 15 places, with Sweden, Australia, Denmark, Spain and South Africa all represented as well. Go one spot deeper and you've got a player from Argentina.

"We've got a lot of strong players internationally," said Sweden's Henrik Stenson, who is tied atop the leaderboard with Australia's Robert Allenby. Both shot 5-under-par 67 at Doral's Blue Monster course. "Europe's been producing a lot of good players, and the same from other parts of the world.

"I don't know if the conditions we were playing today is maybe more to our favor. I guess we might be a little bit more used to playing in windy conditions."

Or maybe there are just more good players around the world these days.

There are 17 nations represented among the 73 players in the CA Championship field, with just 27 of those players from the United States.

Americans Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson (who shot 77 on Thursday) occupy the top three spots in the Official World Golf Ranking, but the rest of the top 50 is hardly all Red, White and Blue. Just 16 Americans occupy the top 50 spots.

"The golf world has changed its face a little bit," said England's David Howell, ranked 19th in the world.

Americans used to dominate the PGA Tour and the world in terms of golf, but not anymore. Just 10 years ago, there were just 20 foreign-born players with exempt status on the PGA Tour. Now, there are 76 international players with tour membership.

So if foreign golf is so strong, why don't some of these World Golf Championship events move around?

Since the WGCs began in 1999, 18 of the 24 official tournaments have been played in the U.S. The Bridgestone Invitational has been played in the U.S. every year and the Match Play has left just once.

This tournament, formerly known as the American Express Championship, has moved around the most -- twice to Spain, twice to Ireland, once to England. But it is now anchored in Miami -- at least a culturally diverse city -- for at least the next four years.

"I understand the reason why," said Australia's Adam Scott, "but it would be nice, seeing as they're called world events, to see them played a little more globally."

The PGA Tour says it is mostly about economics. The U.S. television audience is a big factor in attracting corporate sponsorship, which helps with the $8-million purses being offered.

And then, of course, there is the argument that many of the world's best players -- American or not -- are already based here.

"You have guys from Korea that play over here," said Australia's Aaron Baddeley. "Swedes, Danish, South Africans. I guess it's not as big of a deal when they're already here."

And it won't be a big deal if they continue to make their presence known. At last month's Match Play Championship, just one of eight players (Chad Campbell) who made it to the quarterfinals was an American. Here, there are just 15 Americans in the top 37 through one round.

"I think these tournaments are great," said South Africa's Tim Clark. "To bring people from all over the world is exciting."

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.