New York - Firestone Country Club in Ohio is losing a World
Golf Championship and picking up one of the five majors on the PGA Tour
In a pair of announcements in different states on Thursday,
the PGA Tour said the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, will become
a World Golf Championship in 2019, moving from the week before the US Open to a
midsummer date just ahead of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
It will be called the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
Bridgestone chose not to renew its title sponsorship of the
WGC event at Firestone. Instead, the company will sponsor the Senior Players
Championship at the venerable Akron course with a history of hosting the best
in the world.
Starting next year, Firestone will get the best players over
the age 50.
The move allows Firestone to remain a big part of the summer
golf schedule, where it has been since the Rubber City Open in 1954.
Jack Nicklaus has won six times at Firestone, including the
1975 PGA Championship. Tiger Woods is an eight-time winner at Firestone, all of
them World Golf Championships titles.
The move is a boost for Memphis, which has one of the most
significant charities in the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Its field
has been hurt by being held a week before the US Open, with several top players
choosing not to play.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan did not specify the 2019
dates in Memphis except to say the event would be held about the same time as
the WGC in Ohio, which typically is the first weekend in August. It will be
played at the TPC Southwind, making it the only course in the TPC network to
hold a World Golf Championship.
The WGC field is limited to the top 50 players in the world
ranking, players from the most recent Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, and
winners of select tournaments from the six tours around the world that make up
the International Federation of PGA Tours.
At a boisterous news conference in Memphis, the first
question to Monahan was whether Woods will finally come to the FedEx St. Jude
Invitational. It is one of six PGA Tour events that have been around at least
20 years that Woods has never played.
Woods has been slowed the last four years because of back
surgeries. His last victory was at Firestone in 2013, and he dipped as low as
No 1,199 in the world from sitting out for most of the last two years. Now
healthy, after playing six tournaments, he is up to No 88 in the world.
"As of right now, Tiger Woods would not be qualifying.
Next time you see him, you should ask him that question," Monahan said as
the room broke into laughter.
The Memphis tournament began in 1958, and FedEx first became
the title sponsor in 1986.
Monahan said that when it was clear Bridgestone was not
going to renew its sponsorship of the WGC at Firestone - estimated to be worth
some $14 million a year - he began negotiating with FedEx over converting the
Memphis event into something much bigger.
The change also eliminates a week in the current schedule as
the PGA Tour moves toward ending its season on Labour Day to finish before the
NFL season. The plan is for the Houston Open to occupy the spot in the schedule
a week before the US Open.
Firestone was best known for hosting the original World
Series of Golf, which began in 1962 as a four-man exhibition of the major
champions, and then became a regular event in 1976. The WGCs began in 1999, and
Firestone has hosted one every year since then except for 2002, when title
sponsor NEC took it to Sahalee outside Seattle.
The Bridgestone Senior Players Championship will be played
July 12-15, 2019, with the winner getting a spot in The Players Championship.
The Senior Players was held at nearby Canterbury Golf Club from 1983 to 1986.
The PGA Tour said 57 of the 78 players who competed in the
Senior Players last year have played Firestone during their careers. Jose Maria
Olazabal won the NEC World Series of Golf in 1990 and 1994 (it was held on the
North Course in 1994), while Vijay Singh won the Bridgestone Invitational in