Wednesday 28 September 2016

Stars scramble to make most of Tiger's legacy

Published 02/09/2016 | 02:30

Stars of the modern era should be grateful to Tiger Woods Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire...S
Stars of the modern era should be grateful to Tiger Woods Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire...S

Twenty years after Tiger Woods played his first tournament as a professional, the stars of the modern era should get down on their knees in gratitude.

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Today, at the TPC in Boston, the Deutsche Bank Championship starts with 100 competitors chasing a share of $8.5m prize money.

This is only the second of the four events in the FedEx Cup play-offs in which overall, a whopping $67m is up for grabs.

That's $32m in tournament prize money, and bonus cash totalling $35m, including a $10m bonus for the overall winner of the FedEx Cup.

The phenomenal prize money has risen dramatically since Tiger's arrival on the scene after a stellar amateur career which included a record three successive US Amateur titles.

Woods' professional debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open on August 29, 1996 was eagerly anticipated and attracted huge media interest.

For the record, he made the cut but finished 60th, earning a cheque for $2,544.

It was a drop in the ocean compared to the wealth he would generate as the greatest player in the world, but his arrival heralded an unprecedented era of prosperity for the professional game.

These days a million dollars for first prize is routine on the PGA Tour, and the FedEx Cup has taken the money levels to a new dimension since the series began in 2007.

Appropriately, Woods won that first campaign and the $10m bonus pool money and repeated the feat in 2009.

His fall from grace that year and the break-up of his marriage due to a rake of affairs blew the lid off Tiger's aura of invincibility, but he is missed by his many fans who hope he can rehab from recurring back problems to make a return in 2017.

In the meantime, the Deutsche Bank event takes centre stage and Ireland is represented by Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

Shane Lowry had planned to be in Boston, but his late bid to make the European Ryder Cup team derailed his FedEx Cup hopes.

Lowry opted out of the first tournament, The Barclays, last week in favour of trying to win the Made in Denmark for Ryder Cup points.

That did not work out, and he dropped 15 places in the FedEx Cup rankings, pushing him down to 102nd - two shy of a place in the elite field.

He admitted that his plan had "backfired" and now intends to take the next few weeks off, during which he will review the 2016 season and assess his priorities for 2017.

In Boston, Patrick Reed, winner of The Barclays, now occupies the top spot in the rankings.

Reed has Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Emiliano Grillo breathing down his neck, plus a host of other big names including Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler eager to contend for the title.

McDowell at 35 and McIlroy (38) need to ensure they make the top 70 who go forward to the third event of the series, the BMW Championship next week, so the stage is set for an exciting tournament in Boston.

It finishes on Monday, Labor Day in the USA, and the two Irish players tee off at 6.04pm Irish time (McIlroy), and 6.16pm (McDowell).

Smarting

Scotland's Russell Knox, still smarting from his European Ryder Cup team omission by Darren Clarke, is highly motivated to play well this week.

Captain Clarke got back on the fairways in the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre yesterday but his Ryder Cup obligations clearly took a toll on his game as he shot an eight-over-par 78.

Best of the Irish was Michael Hoey on 71, one-over par. Paul Dunne shot an opening 72.

Masters champion Danny Willett began the defence of his European Masters title with a 65 to lie one shot off the joint leaders Paul Peterson (USA), Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Gregory Havret, both from France, and England's Daniel Brooks.

Des Smyth tees off at Woburn today in the Travis Perkins Senior Masters seeking a third win in the tournament.

The former Ryder Cup player and two-time vice-captain was champion in 2010 and 2012 and would love to make it a hat-trick.

"I'm an eternal optimist and I'll certainly be trying to get the third one this week," said Smyth.

Omega European Masters, Live, Sky Sports 4, 10.30am

Deutsche Bank Championship, Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.30pm

Irish Independent

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