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PGA, WGT BATTLE OVER GOLF GREAT GREG NORMAN

By Published on .

The World Golf Tour is mired in a sand trap of confusion and it hasn't even left the tee yet.

The status of the WGT-a rival to the Professional Golfers Association Tour supported by linksterGreg Norman and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.-is uncertain. Or at least it was at deadline Friday after a week of conflicting PGA Tour and WGT news releases.

The arrival of the WGT set the golf world on its ear: a 10-event championship tour of the world's top golfers, marketed and televised by Fox and Mr. Murdoch's other global TV properties. The PGA Tour says the WGT violates its rules that regulate where and when its players may play.

Those rules are wildly unpopular among players, and the PGA Tour is currently being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission for possible antitrust violations. The conventional wisdom was that the PGA Tour wouldn't challenge the WGT because to do so would risk FTC action.

But PGA Tour Commissioner Timothy W. Finchem didn't back down. After almost two weeks of peace talks with Mr. Norman and the WGT, Mr. Finchem issued a Nov. 29 statement saying he would suspend any player who participates in WGT events.

Then came a Dec. 1 statement from Mr. Finchem saying Mr. Norman told him over the phone he "would not support any venture that would damage the PGA Tour, our tournaments or their sponsors."

John Montgomery Jr., WGT executive director, shot back Dec. 2: "I spoke with Greg Norman and he reiterated his complete support for the World Golf Tour ... the last thing I want to do is get in a battle of press releases with the PGA Tour."

A spokesman said the WGT was completely befuddled by Mr. Finchem's statement. Mr. Norman, in Australia last week, is expected back in the U.S. this week.

A WGT spokesman said unspecified marketers were lining up for sponsorships, though it is known that Dole Food Co. and Reebok International expressed interest.

However, golf insiders said Mr. Norman and WGT misjudged the support they would get from other golfers. It now appears they aren't about to bite the hand that feeds them, even if it is a restrictive one.

Still, the idea of a world tour, a structured, championship-style tournament with high-powered youth marketing, appeals to sports marketing executives concerned about the graying sport.

"Golf needs something new and fresh," said Bill Allard, chief operating officer at ProServ, an Arlington, Va.-based sports marketing company. "Right now it's just one event after another that means nothing. It could benefit from the championship structure that makes team sports exciting and successful."

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