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AT&T National Not What It Once Was

When Arnold Palmer created the Bay Hill Invitational, players flocked to play in deference to Palmer. After all, he is the King and largely responsible for the game's growth and popularity.

When Jack Nicklaus started the Memorial Tournament, everyone that was anyone made reservations for Columbus, Ohio. This was also true of Byron Nelson when his name was attached to the tournament in Dallas.

This week's PGA Tour event is the AT&T National.

From its inception in 2007 the title was AT&T National Hosted by Tiger Woods, but a falling out between Woods and AT&T pushed the player out of the host's chair before the 2010 event. In some ways, that has changed the dynamic of the event, specifically the quality of the field.

By Tuesday four players—Heath Slocum, newly minted tour winner Fredrik Jacobson, Ernie Els and Ben Crane—had pulled out of the event for various reasons. Those players were replaced by George McNeill, Kent Jones, David Mathis and Steve Flesch, which is not really a fair trade in any circumstance.

Add that to the fact that the initial field was not really strong to begin. Nick Watney is the highest-ranked player at No. 15.

That means all players ahead of Watney—including 2011 major winners Rory McIlroy and Charl Schwartzel, top Americans Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar—all declined AT&T's invitation.

Now look at this week's European Tour, the French Open. No. 4-ranked Martin Kaymer and No. 12 Bubba Watson are in the field, along with brothers Francesco and Edoardo Molinari and Alvaro Quiros. Throw in Colin Montgomerie and Italian Open winner Robert Rock, and there is the making of a nice tournament. Not great, but solid.

Is it possible that Woods' allure has faded so much that players are taking his event off as he has decided to do? According to Twitter today, Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, has reportedly spoken to the Scottish Open officials about Woods playing at Castle Stuart next week in preparation for the Open Championship.

Where the AT&T National was once a must play for many of the game's top players, it now has been regulated to a second-tier event.

Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.

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