A year ago, Tucson wondered – Will Tiger Woods, recovering from knee surgery, play in the World Golf Championships / Accenture Match Play tournament at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain?
He did, and 463 million TV sets across the planet tuned in to Tucson.
Today, for very different reasons, Tucson ponders anew whether Tiger shall prowl at the 2010 match play tournament, to unfold Feb. 15-21 on the Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course in north Marana.
Woods, the world's greatest golfer and his sport's compelling attraction, has seen his personal life splayed across the tabloids, the 'Web (55 million Google results Monday night) and television since he smashed a fire hydrant and a tree on Thanksgiving night. On Friday, Woods said he's taking "an indefinite break from professional golf" in an effort to save a marriage threatened by his extramarital affairs. Sponsors — most prominently, Accenture, on Sunday — are dropping him, or at least distancing themselves, though big player Nike is staying the course.
The effects of Tiger's tales upon match play, the Professional Golfers Association, his sport and his wallet are still taking form.
But, for match play tournament director Wade Dunagan, and for Judy McDermott, director of the Tucson Conquistadores, match play will go on, Eldrick Woods or no Eldrick Woods.
"Obviously, we don't control those types of things," Dunagan said Monday morning. "In my optimistic opinion, we don't know that he isn't coming yet. We're proceeding, we're not changing any of our preparations, or the way we're going about things.
"We recognize that Tiger's fan base is very large, but we think people will follow other groups," Dunagan said. "It's world-class golf."
"You can never plan on one player being here," said McDermott, who agreed with Dunagan that "we still don't know for sure if he will be here or won't be here. We know we're going to have the top 64 in the world here, and most of them come."
"I'll be honest, when any of the top 64 are absent, someone's going to be disappointed," Dunagan said. "If Tiger isn't here, that'll happen. I think people will still come out and enjoy a spectacular event. We'll have quite a few marquee names, and we've got probably the best field in all of golf, at least arguably."
McDermott's objective is the charitable fund-raising goal of $1 million, nearly reached a year ago.
"What's hurting us now, more, is the economy, rather than who the field is," she said. "The economy's been difficult."
The tournament's major corporate sponsors and others in the community "don't support us because of Tiger Woods," McDermott said. "They support us because of how important this event is to the community, and to charities."
"We were real close to that number last year," Dunagan said. "We need it now more than ever."
"We have realistic goals," McDermott said. "We'd love to raise more. Realistically, our focus is to give $1 million."
The Conquistadores are "a terrific partner, and that's one thing very important to us," Dunagan said. They raise money for charitable giving through ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and related income. People pay money to come see high-quality golf, and it'll be on Dove Mountain, Dunagan asserts. "The who's who in golf will be here," he said.
Ticket sales are "ahead of last year," McDermott said. "The new golf course had a big spike for us. Everybody just had a great experience, so we're feeding off that. We really have some awesome hospitality venues. We've done really well coming out of the gate."
Last year's attendance for the week was more than 65,000. While the new course has room for more, "we work hard to make sure it's more of an intimate golf experience, where people can get up close and see the professionals first hand," Dunagan said. "They're not 30 deep in a crowd."
"We did determine the new golf course can probably hold more people," McDermott said. "But not more than 15,000 on Wednesday, and then it goes down on the weekends. Sunday, with four golfers, you don't want too many people on the golf course."
"We want people to get close to the players, and have a firsthand view of world-class golf," Dunagan said.
"It's really a great event for the true golf fan," McDermott said. "It's up close and personal, it's a great event for that."
Last year was the tournament's first at the new Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain venue.
"We learned a few things from last year," Dunagan said. "I equate one of these tournaments to pouring a big bucket of water on your floor. You find out quickly where the low spots are."
A new food court is going in right in the middle of the golf course, next to the 10th green, making it "a lot easier to get food and drink." The Walter Hagen Club, the favorite hospitality venue overlooking the 13th green, is being stairstepped from one to three levels to improve fan viewing.
After last year's event, the PGA asked for some "tweaks" on the course, most of them on the greens. "Everyone" — Nicklaus, the Ritz-Carlton and others — "jumped on board immediately, and the work was completed in 21 days, an astronomical undertaking," Dunagan said. Greens are faster, and there are more possible pin placements.
"I don't know of a single golf course that doesn't go through changes like these over time," Dunagan said. "As a new facility, you don't know how it'll play until you play it."
Inquiries from players are coming in. Match play draws its field from the world's top 64 ranked players. "Thirty-five to 40 are probably pretty solid right now," Dunagan said. "Certainly the last few spots will change between now and the tournament." Rankings of record come out Sunday, Feb. 7.
The hotel's opening, scheduled for this Friday, means a number of players are likely to stay on the site, as well as people from tourney sponsor Accenture. "It adds to the experience for all the people involved," Dunagan said. "It's an unbelievably beautiful resort. It's great for the tournament, and even more so, it's wonderful for Tucson and Marana."
Woods or no Woods, "our focus remains the same, and we feel like this tournament is very important to Southern Arizona because of the economic impact," Dunagan said. "When you look at the exposure for our brand of golf, and for Southern Arizona, which is a wonderful place to be in February, we think it's just terrific for the area and the community."
Match play tickets
Tickets for the WGC / Accenture Match Play Championship, to be played Feb. 15-21 at the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, in Marana, are now on sale.
Daily ticket prices are:
• Monday and Tuesday, practice rounds — $25 in advance, $35 at the gate;
• Wednesday, with 32 matches — $55;
• Thursday through Sunday, $45 in advance, $55 at the gate. Weekend daily tickets are a new feature.
Weekly ground tickets — $200 in advance, $225 at the gate.
Match play has entered a new partnership with Ticketmaster, primarily for single-day tickets. "We hope that provides some more convenient options, including print at home," tourney director Wade Dunagan said.
The web address is worldgolfchampionships.com. The phone number with the Tucson Conquistadores is 571-0400.