Detroit – It’s clear, just more than seven weeks out, that interest in the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic is growing.
The tournament, to be played June 27-30 at Detroit Golf Club, marks the return of the PGA Tour to the state of Michigan after being absent since the Buick Open ended its run in Grand Blanc back in 2009. The fact it’s taking place within the city of Detroit is the icing on the cake as professional golf is surging once again in the state.
Golf fans are scooping up tickets and corporate suites are all but gone.
However, one question remains: Who will be playing when the 156-man field is finalized?
OK, the better question is: Will HE be playing? Yes, we’re talking about Tiger Woods.
“To me, Tiger Woods is the most recognizable and impactful athlete of my generation,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said this week as he visited both Warwick Hills, site of the PGA Tour Champions’ Ally Challenge, and the Detroit Golf Club.
“There is nothing like Tiger,” Monahan added. “To me, he’s the most recognizable, dominant athlete in my lifetime and this generation. To have him back at this point in time … every week that he’s playing it pulls in more casual fans to our sport. If that were to happen and we see more of that, that would be a wonderful thing.”
The Rocket Mortgage Classic isn’t unique, other than the fact it’s a first-year event. Outside of the major tournaments, there seem to be few guarantees on Woods’ schedule these days. After playing on a nearly weekly basis late last season, Woods admitted he was worn out and vowed to take a more conservative approach this season in an effort to remain fresh and not put undo stress on his surgically repaired back.
That idea of playing a lighter schedule might have been emphasized after the 43-year-old capped a remarkable comeback last month by winning the Masters. Woods hasn’t played since and barring a last-second decision to play next week’s Byron Nelson Classic, he won’t play again until the PGA Championship at Bethpage May 16-19 in New York.
From there, Woods would seem likely to play two weeks later at the Memorial from May 30-June 2 in the tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus in Dublin, Ohio. Two weeks after that is the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach from June 13-16. What Woods does from that point until the British Open July 18-21 in Northern Ireland is where the guessing game begins.
He’s not expected to play the Travelers Championship the week after the U.S. Open or the John Deere Classic the week before the British Open and, unlike some players, he doesn’t typically play in Europe the week before the British Open.
That leaves the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the 3M Open in Blaine, Minn., as the two events Woods would seem to be choosing from to play.
The 3M Open, like the Rocket Mortgage Classic, is a first-year event and is played the following week from July 4-7. It has already secured commitments from Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson. The Detroit event, meanwhile, has landed No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson along with Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson and it has a larger purse at $7.3 million compared to $6.4 million at the 3M Open.
There are several of reasons Woods might opt to play in Detroit, chief among them the fact Woods has a successful history in the state, having played the Buick Open nine times, winning at Warwick Hills three times. He also has a close relationship with Quicken Loans, which sponsored his tournament in Washington D.C. before the date was given to the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
The case for Woods playing near the Twin Cities is it fits more into how he has typically scheduled, meaning playing two weeks before a major. However, if that held true, Woods would be playing at the Wells Fargo Championship this week, and with the move of the PGA Championship from August to May, everyone is adjusting to the new scheduling.
“At the end of the day, it’s the player’s decision,” Monahan said. “A lot of factors go into their decision making. All we do is help them be as informed as they possibly can.”
Don’t expect a decision soon from Woods. He rarely commits early and players have until the Friday before the tournament to enter. However, more commitments should be rolling in over the course of the next few weeks and odds are the big names won’t end with Johnson and Fowler.
But even with names like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy all still out there, the big one is Woods.
“You always want to have Tiger play in your event,” Monahan said. “But you’ve got 46 events on the schedule and he’s going to play in 16-18 events. If you look over course of our schedule I think the depth of our player fields today – and look at the players that have committed thus far and the fact the community has responded. That’s all happened without knowing whether or not he’s going to play.
“I think you’ll have a great field. Having Dustin and Rickie committed this early is pretty exceptional and that list is only going to continue to grow.”
Rocket Mortgage Classic
When: June 27-30
Where: Detroit Golf Club
TV: Golf Channel, CBS
Purse: $7.3 million
2018 winner: Inaugural event