Els, Goosen, Garcia  Set to Make First Start

By Doug Ferguson
Associated Press
Wednesday, February 14, 2007; 8:54 PM

LOS ANGELES -- Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Sergio Garcia are among international players making their first PGA Tour start of 2007 at the Nissan Open, and it's no coincidence that Riviera has the deepest field on tour this year.

Even without Tiger Woods.

The last few years has brought an unstoppable shift in the world of golf, and now a majority of the top players in the world rankings come from abroad. Sure, Woods and Jim Furyk give the Americans a 1-2 punch at the top, and the way Phil Mickelson won at Pebble Beach last week, it might not be long before he makes it a threesome.

Top to bottom, however, golf has gone global.

"Over here, we play for a lot of money," Els said Wednesday. "So that draws a lot more players to come and play the U.S. tour. It means that the depth of the field becomes a lot stronger than anywhere else in the world. And subsequently, you have a stronger tour. But you've got a much broader base of players from around the world."

Consider the Nissan Open, which starts Thursday with Rory Sabbatini -- a South African -- as the defending champion.

The tournament boasts 11 of the top 13 players in the world, and all but two of them (Furyk and Mickelson) carry passports. Els, Goosen, Garcia and Paul Casey have been playing in the desert, but it was in Qatar, Dubai or Abu Dhabi, not Phoenix or Palm Springs.

Another example of international power -- more world ranking points were available at Abu Dhabi than the Bob Hope Classic.

It's quite a turnaround from when the world rankings first were introduced two decades ago. The top three players were European (Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros and Sandy Lyle), but there were 31 Americans among the top 50.

Now, it's top-heavy with Americans, but there are only 13 others in the top 50.

"The golf world has changed its face a little bit," said David Howell of England. "The U.S. tour, pretty much most weeks there are more international players than U.S. players, which obviously would have been unheard of 10, 15 years ago. I would imagine that's good for golf."

His numbers were slightly off. The Americans still have a 2-to-1 advantage at Riviera in the 144-man field.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Associated Press