Updated: January 3, 2012, 8:18 PM ET

Why the no-shows for PGA Tour opener?

Harig By Bob Harig
Archive
It is a new year but an old story. With all due respect to the likes of Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley and Steve Stricker, who begin the 2012 PGA Tour season this week on Maui, the tournament again faces questions about why so many players are skipping it.

Although it might be tough to fathom the idea of passing on a free week in Hawaii -- Derek Lamely got $55,000 a year ago for finishing last -- the Hyundai Tournament of Champions has been dealing with this issue for years.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Byrd
Stan Badz/PGA TOURJonathan Byrd captured the 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions, ensuring he'd earn a return trip to Hawaii in 2012.

Phil Mickelson hasn't played the tournament since 2001, and Tiger Woods -- who is not eligible this year -- last played at Kapalua in 2005.

Their decisions to bypass the first event of the new year have seemingly made it easier for others to take the week off. And this year, the old problem is even more glaring with the absence of 11 players who are eligible.

Among those who won't tee it up when the tournament begins Friday are three major champions (Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke), three World Golf Championship winners (Luke Donald, Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer) and two FedEx playoff winners (Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose).

Throw in Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker and Fredrik Jacobson also taking a pass, and you've got nearly one-third of the eligible players not teeing it up.

To be fair, Johnson, Rose, Snedeker and Jacobson have legitimate reasons for skipping. Johnson and Snedeker are coming off offseason surgery and not ready to play. Jacobson also was dealing with an injury. Rose's wife just had a baby.

So what is the excuse for the other seven players? The same one they have for skipping any other tournament on the PGA Tour. They are not required to play, and although it is unfortunate that they choose not to participate this week, it is more than understandable.

There are simply too many choices, too many good tournaments for today's top players. And for some, there has hardly been an offseason. Donald just played three weeks ago at the Australian Masters -- the last of a three-week run that saw him play in South Africa and Dubai before Australia. He is scheduled to open his 2012 season in three weeks at Abu Dhabi.

McIlroy, Clarke, Kaymer and Scott all play worldwide schedules as well with the opportunity to play four WGC, no-cut, guaranteed-money events -- plus the appearances fees they get at various tournaments.

So what to do?

No sport starts its season with as little fanfare, as little buzz, as the PGA Tour. Then again, no sport has the minuscule offseason of golf, either, meaning that players start and end based on personal preference, not necessarily where the schedule says they should.

A drastic measure would be to make playing the tournament mandatory to eligible players. If the PGA Tour wants a big start to its season, it has to insist that everybody be there. Of course, that goes against the very nature of the PGA Tour, which does not want to compel any player to compete somewhere he does not want to be.

There have been calls to expand the field, as the Champions Tour does, by inviting winners of the past two years and those who hold major championship trophies for a period of time. But that doesn't mean that some of the marquee names from last year would show up.

You could attempt to make the first tournament of the year a World Golf Championship event and scrap the winners-only format, but again, guys can skip those, too.

The suggestion here has been to start the season a few weeks later, waiting until the end of January -- the week before the Super Bowl -- when there is no television conflict with the NFL playoffs, and players have a bit more time to decompress. Then stage a grand season-opening event with a full field of players in Hawaii, California or Florida. Figure out a way to compel everyone to be there and make it a big deal.

Members of the European Tour, who begin their seasons overseas, still would run into problems. And an extra three weeks in January doesn't mean some players still wouldn't want to wait to begin their season.

But at least it would try to alleviate the issue we are seeing this week.

Looking ahead in 2012

A long season begins this week, one that basically ends twice for the PGA Tour -- after the Tour Championship in September and then when the Fall Series concludes in November. The European Tour's season-ending tournament in Dubai finishes the weekend before Thanksgiving. It is also a Ryder Cup year.

Here are but a few of the storylines to keep an eye on.

• Tiger Woods. He clearly is playing better after a successful two weeks in Australia and a victory at his season-ending charity event. The true measure will be adding to his 71 PGA Tour titles and 14 major championships. He recently turned 36 and now has as many majors as Jack Nicklaus did at the same age.

• Rory McIlroy. He has rejoined the PGA Tour, and all seems good with the reigning U.S. Open champion. Can he add multiple tournament titles to his résumé?

• Luke Donald. The Englishman is coming off an amazing 2011 season in which he won money titles on both the PGA and European tours as well as four worldwide victories. Donald seemingly was in the top 10 every week, and while it might be a lot to ask for him to repeat his feats of a year ago, you can bet he'll go for quality (majors) over quantity this year.

• The Ryder Cup. Just think how hard it will be to make the European team. The top four in the world are all from Europe: Donald, Lee Westwood, McIlroy and Kaymer. Then you've got the likes of Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Alvaro Quiros, Robert Karlsson, Simon Dyson, Thomas Bjorn, Edoardo Molinari, Francesco Molinari and Matteo Manassero. Europe has 21 players ranked among the top 50, and some good ones won't be at Medinah in September.

• The FedEx Cup. The four-tournament playoff series is often panned, but it has been very successful in bringing together excellent fields at a time of year when such a scenario would be otherwise impossible. But this is the final year of the FedEx deal. The PGA Tour has been very successful at sponsorship renewals, but this one is huge. If FedEx does not re-up, then what?

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

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