There is a good reason why officials at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship were quick to trumpet the addition of Trevor Immelman to the field for their April 24-27 tournament in Irving when the South African made plans to compete on Wednesday.
Immelman, the No. 23 player in this week's world golf rankings, is the highest-ranked golfer who has gone public with plans to play at the Four Seasons Resort, where the TPC Las Colinas course is undergoing major renovations. He joins defending champ Scott Verplank (No. 24), Ian Poulter (No. 25), Aaron Oberholser (No. 31) and Dallas resident Justin Leonard (No. 32) as the five highest-ranked golfers in the Nelson field with just over five weeks remaing before the April 18 commitment deadline.
Nelson officials anticipated a potential dropoff in star power for the tournament, which landed two of the world's top 10 golfers last season, because of the fresh course tweaks. But a potential top-10 shutout? Let's just say things have changed a lot in Irving since the tournament's namesake is no longer available for post-round handshakes.
In fairness, Fort Worth resident Rory Sabbatini, the No. 9 player in the world rankings, made it clear during a recent interview that he plans to play at the Nelson although he has yet to make an official commitment. But it looms as a strong possibility that Sabbatini, the defending Colonial champ, could emerge as the lone top-10 player in Irving.
Perhaps things will pick up when Nelson officials receive formal approval to play all 72 holes at the refurbished TPC course from PGA Tour officials. The final tour inspection of the redesigned layout has been done and approval is anticipated in the near future, from all indications. Once given, that could cause some high-profile players who were waffling about playing in the Nelson to come into the fold.
But, typically, the first season on a new or redesigned course does not produce a star-studded field. Nelson officials appear headed in that direction in 2008.
_ Jimmy Burch