TUCSON - If the Chrysler Classic of Tucson fares as well as it did during Wednesday’s Pro-Am, when approximately 10,000 fans soaked up the sun, then it is safe to predict that golf’s "Last Roundup in the Old Pueblo" will have yet another great week since the PGA Tour left it for dead in 1998.
The R.I.P. tattooed on the Tour’s ninth-oldest tournament came shortly after a $200 million television contract was negotiated by commissioner Tim Finchem & Co. Funny, it never quite worked out that way.
Offered their choice between a Champions event or a satellite spot the same week as the WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship, the sponsoring Conquistadores decided to square off against the big boys at La Costa (Calif.) Resort & Spa rather than ride with the Over the Hill Gang.
It seemed like suicide at the time.
But thanks to an unusual makeup of shooting stars like John Daly, and the presence of actor Kevin Costner and rocker Alice Cooper during the pro-ams, Tucson has been able to stand tall. In fact, Long John has a chance this week to do what no other player entered at Tucson has ever done in the past: win the West Coast Swing.
That’s right, should Daly prevail at Tucson National Golf Course on Sunday, and should Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Mike Weir, Stuart Appleby and Jonathan Kaye fail to make the quarterfinals at the World Match Play, Daly would be crowned "the King of the Swing.’’ It would be the ultimate irony, as the $500,000 bonus he would receive for such a feat would earn Daly $1,000,040 for the week — or just a little less than the Match Play champ, who gets $1.2 million.
"That would be great, just wonderful for this tournament,’’ Daly said Wednesday when told of his opportunity.
"Really, it’s hard for a player to turn down the money in the Match Play. Having said that, I’m proud to be here.’’
And the cynics wonder why Daly remains the people’s choice. Sure, he’s probably a long shot to win twice in three weeks.
Then again, he’s playing well, recording three top-10s, including an improbable victory two weeks ago in San Diego.
And, some might argue, the Match Play never has lived up to all its hype, producing champions such as Jeff Maggert, Darren Clarke, Steve Stricker and Kevin Sutherland before Tiger Woods finally held up as the No. 1 seed last year.
What’s interesting about Tucson is the way the veteran players still support it. A bunch have turned out this time, including Paul Azinger, Mark Calcavecchia, Tom Lehman, Billy Mayfair, Steve Elkington, Angel Cabrera, Harrison Frazer, Carlos Franco, Jeff Maggert, Notah Begay, Jose Maria Olazabal, Rory Sabbatini and Scott Simpson.
Lehman, for one, said it’s only right.
"I’ve always felt that, with its history, with its sponsor, and the fact the Conquistadores have all their ducks in a row, it deserved its own date (on the schedule),’’ the Scottsdale pro said.
"Tournaments like this one and the Texas Open, they work hard, so the Tour needs to do what’s right by them.’’
Lehman’s appearance is a nice gesture, considering Tucson’s purse of $3 million is one of the smallest on Tour. In fact, the winner’s share — $540,000 — isn’t even secondplace money at some of the bigger events.
Money, however, is not the issue, Mayfair said.
"The Conquistadores have always been good to me. In fact, they gave me an exemption here when I was just getting started,’’ said Mayfair, who also lives in Scottsdale.
"And I love Tucson National, having won a couple of college tournaments here. And if that’s not enough of a reason, it’s only 1 1 /2 hours from my driveway.
"The money? Five years ago, $3 million was big out here. And if you win, it still will get you to Hawaii (for the season-opening Mercedes Championship).’’
The list of young guns lining up for Tucson also is stellar, with players such as Aaron Baddeley, Ricky Barnes, Lucas Glover, Mathias Gronberg, Mark Hensby, Hunter Mahan, Patrick Moore, Kevin Na and Ted Purdy in the mix.
Baddeley, the Australian star who also calls Scottsdale home these days, said there might even be an advantage to playing in Tucson, where the field is weaker.
"On the Tour, a win is a win and it doesn’t matter where you get it because it carries the same weight as any other tournament,’’ he said.
"Sure, the best players (top 64 in the world) are playing in the Match Play, but we’ve still got a lot of great players here.’’