Weaker field for Atlanta's US PGA Tour stop

The US PGA Tour puts up a board at each event listing the top 15 in the season standings.

updated: May 19, 2007 14:53 IST
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Duluth, Georgia:

The US PGA Tour puts up a board at each event listing the top 15 in the season standings.

Most of those players are somewhere else this week, and their absence has given the AT&T Classic a decidedly minor-league look.

Only four of the top 15 in the FedEx Cup race - a format that was supposed to lure more top players into entering these second-tier events - are on hand for the Atlanta-area event.

Looking a bit deeper through the field, just 10 of the top 50 in the world rankings will be teeing off on Thursday at the TPC Sugarloaf. Tiger Woods had better things to do. So did defending champion Phil Mickelson, who blew away the field a year ago.

Sweden's Henrik Stenson (No 7), who could probably blend into the gallery without getting recognized, is the only representative from the world's top 10.

"Everybody has different schedules, and sometimes you've got to take a tournament off," Stenson said on Wednesday. "I guess with this one being a bit later in a long stretch of events, it's just natural that a few of the guys would take a week off.

"But," he added with a slight grin, "we're still here."

The AT&T Classic has long been plagued by poor timing.

Eight years ago, the tournament willingly shifted to the slot right before the Masters in hopes of landing a large international field, benefiting from the buzz leading up to the first major of the year and providing a last hope of qualifying for nearby Augusta National.

But Masters officials changed their format, eliminating the automatic berth for all US PGA Tour winners from the previous year. So much for that selling point. And the weather was often miserable in the late March-early April spot. It even snowed one year.

Damaging blow

Of course, the most damaging blow was the absence of Woods, who never plays the week before a major. The Atlanta tournament soon found itself longing for its former May date, hoping that would bring back the world's most prominent player.

"Every tournament where he plays is obviously a little bit special," Stenson said.

When the US tour revamped its schedule for the new FedEx Cup, the AT&T Classic shifted back to May. But the old timing issue rose again, and it was placed right after the Byron Nelson, Wachovia and Players championships.

Mickelson, the two-time defending champion, won last year by 13 strokes and set a tournament record with his 28-under total, but decided against going for a three-peat.

Stewart Cink is playing this week, but that's to be expected - he has a home at Sugarloaf.

He believes the May date will eventually work in the tournament's favor. The weather will certainly be better, though an afternoon storm did cut into Wednesday's pro-am. Also, the course will be in much better shape than it was coming out of the chilly winter months.