Firestone to host the world's best players over 50 next year
By DOUG FERGUSON
Firestone Country Club in Ohio is losing a World Golf Championship and picking up one of the five majors on the PGA Tour Champions.
In a pair of announcements in different states 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 Labor 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 U.S. 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 2008.
Updated April 12, 2018
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