The top players from the USPGA Tour gather this week at the East Lake Golf Club near Atlanta for the annual end of season Tour Championship. Last week saw Europe’s equivalent, the Volvo Masters at Valderrama, which was one of the most gripping events of the year due to the unresolved issue of the Order of Merit. With Tiger Woods millions of dollars ahead of anyone else on the US Tour Money List there will be no repeat, and both he and Phil Mickelson have decided to bypass the event. However, the annual showdown will still attract plenty of viewers as the top players in America close out the 2006 season.
The absence of Woods and Mickelson means that Jim Furyk (pictured) is the clear favourite with bookmakers for a tournament that normally sees the top 30 money winners on the US Tour lining up for one final duel. With the additional absence of Stephen Ames through injury only 27 players will take part – the lowest number for nearly twenty years – but the emphasis here is on quality rather than quantity.
England’s Luke Donald and Sweden’s Carl Petterson are the only Europeans to have qualified for the event, but the presence of Ernie Els (RSA), Vijay Singh (Fij), Adam Scott (Aus), Geoff Ogilvy (Aus) Retief Goosen (RSA) and Trevor Immelman (RSA) means that the Americans will not have things all their own way.
Els only qualified for the tournament on the final green at last week’s Chrysler Championship in Florida and will be hopeful of securing his first win of a year that has been hindered by his recovery from a serious knee injury. Seven of the defeated US Ryder Cup team will be present as they attempt to put some gloss on a disappointing end to the season.
The town of East Lake and its famous golf course have enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years. The great Bobby Jones learned his trade at East Lake after the First World War, when the town was one of the most affluent in the southern United States. Problems began during the civil rights stuggle in the 1960s, when many of East Lake’s richer residents migrated to the Atlanta suburbs. Worse still, Atlanta’s population exploded during the 1970s and 1980s and the increase in crime and depravation spread to East Lake, where the remaining residents endured a very difficult few years.
The East Lake Golf Club itself went into relative decline throughout that period, but the historic course was rescued when lifelong member Tom Cousins purchased the club for a bargain price in 1993. Boosted further by the investment of public money following Atlanta’s successful bid for the 1996 Olympic Games, East Lake’s rehabilitation is now complete. House prices in the area have increased five-fold in ten years and the course has now also been restored to its former glory. It is a historic and fitting setting for a season finale that features the US Tour’s best players.