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Colonial is not without drama, backstabbing

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Posted 5:53pm on Saturday, May. 25, 2013

 

If you think a golf tournament doesn't have its share of reality TV-like drama, think again.

Tigermania comes to Fort Worth, for one year only

In the spring of 1997, Tigermania was at its apex. Tiger Woods had won the Masters by 12 strokes and then won the GTE Byron Nelson Classic in Las Colinas. And the 21-year old dominated the classic Colonial course for the first three days, with rounds of 67, 65 and 64. With record crowds watching, he closed with a 2-over 72 and finished tied for fourth with Paul Goydos, three strokes behind winner David Frost.

Two dramas unfolded along the way.

On the Monday of Colonial week, Woods signed a $13 million deal with American Express, but MasterCard was Colonial's sponsor and its logo appeared in the background of his press conferences. The rumors began swirling that there was "no way" Tiger would return to Colonial because of a conflict of interest with the title sponsor.

Even though Bank of America came on board as the tournament sponsor for four years, and brought Annika Sorenstam in 2003, Tiger never returned.

The other story that gained momentum had to do with the first meeting of Woods and 1981 Colonial champion Fuzzy Zoeller following Zoeller's insensitive remarks after Tiger's Masters win. Tournament officials were supposedly trying to organize a practice round between the two as a show that they had made up, but the intense media coverage of the Tiger-Fuzzy story eventually created backlash, and some unruly fans were reportedly heard shouting racial epithets at Woods during his rounds in Fort Worth.

Whatever his reasons, Woods eventually admitted what many had already assumed to be true -- it was unlikely he'd return. The course, he said, did not fit his game.

Many fans still hold out hope Tiger will be overcome by a sense of golf history and return to Colonial. The mere news he was on the club's grounds back in 2008 to shoot a Nike Golf commercial got the chatter started again. But five years later ... still no Tiger.

Phil Mickelson loses his love for Colonial

Phil Mickelson, aka Lefty, is a two-time winner of the plaid jacket, taking home $594,000 in 2000 and $1,098,000 in 2008. His second win provided one of the most dramatic shots in the history of the tournament, when he hit a wedge from the trees on 18 to within a few feet of the pin and drained the putt.

The week prior to his title defense in 2009, Mickelson had to withdraw from Colonial because his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Colonial officials organized a "Pink Out" in the third round, with players and fans urged to wear pink in support of breast cancer research and the Mickelson family. Phil returned in 2010, but missed the cut and "Pink Out II."

"The Pink Out is really something that's pretty cool. I'm so flattered. I wish I was going to be here to partake in that," Mickelson said. "I will be wearing pink tomorrow, but in San Diego. Monday is Amy's birthday and so it will give me a chance to spend the weekend with her to celebrate."

Mickelson soon changed his tune, though, and rather than praise Colonial and its organizers for all they done to honor his wife, he took shots at the Keith Foster redesign of several holes.

"With the redesign, I’m afraid I won’t be playing it (Colonial) anymore," he said. "It doesn’t give me a power advantage. I know all the shotmakers will be there every year. But I don’t see any of the long hitters playing there anymore. There’s no decision making now. It’s all irons, irons, irons."

Mickelson had also been the main spokesperson for sponsor Crowne Plaza's TV ads. When he split with the hotel chain, he didn't hesitate to let his feelings on the course be known.

Making matters worse in 2011, Mickelson played the Byron Nelson tournament up the road in Las Colinas but skipped Colonial.

Annika draws huge attention to Colonial, but at what price?

For a few days in May 2003, Fort Worth was the epicenter of the sports world as Annika Sorenstam became the first female golfer in 58 years to compete against men in a PGA Tour event. The green 'Go Annika" buttons -- the brainchild of then-Colonial assistant golf pro Chris Rowe -- were the hottest item in town.

On Thursday morning, the 10th tee was completely surrounded for Sorenstam's opening shot, which she striped down the middle of the fairway. For Friday's round, Annika played in the afternoon and drew record crowds.

Playing alongside Aaron Barber and Dean Wilson, the world's top female golfer shot 71 and 74 and missed the cut.

When Annika left town, she took the buzz with her. The sold-out tournament went quiet on the weekend and a lot of the talk turned to Vijay Singh, who dropped Colonial from his schedule after winning the Byron Nelson the week before. Singh was outspoken about Sorenstam getting a sponsor's exemption in place of someone he thought would have been more worthy. Defending champion Nick Price called it a publicity stunt. Rumor has it many other players were upset, just not as vocal. The silent majority's opinion played out in the next several years as the strength of the field fell off, only beginning to recover with the 2008 tournament win by Mickelson.

This is the 10-year anniversary of Annika-Palooza, which, for better or worse, was a turning point in Colonial history. It also marked the first of Kenny Perry's two Colonial titles.

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