When the average world ranking of the top 14 players on the leaderboard in the first event of the Final Series is 186th, you know that something’s not quite right.
But for European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley, the decaffeinated field caused by the absence of the likes of Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Patrick Reed is not a concern for the sponsors of the $7m Turkish Airlines Open.
The European Tour has an agreement with Turkish Airlines through 2018 and Pelley insisted that successful social media innovation and entertaining sideshows such as Wednesday’s cook-off at the five-star Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort between Thongchai Jaidee (winner) and Andrew “Beef” Johnston generate as much traction as big name players.
To that end, Pelley hinted that he would have a competitive floodlit golf event — or possibly even a floodlit tournament — at the event next year.
“It will definitely be here next year,” Pelley said of the tournament on a day when George Coetzee, 85th in the Race to Dubai shot a seven under 64 to lead by a shot from Dane Thorbjorn Olesen as Pádraig Harrington ended it with a bogey for a one over 72 that featured a costly triple bogey six at the sixth.
“What Regnum Carya brings home to us is that we have to do something with night golf. I played six holes under the lights the other night and it was spectacular. It was incredible…. we will definitely have a competition for money under the lights next year.”
On Turkish Airlines, who have invested millions in a Final Series event only to be left with a field featuring just six of the world’s Top 50 and just three of the top 10 in the Race to Dubai, he was upbeat.
“They are very happy and excited by the social media we are starting to produce and create,” he said. “You have the drones that you saw. There was some of the cooking last night. All our digital material is geared towards entertainment.
“At the end of the day, partners want to widen their actual distribution base so in terms of the actual player field, what is most importantis engagement, worldwide. And I think there are a number of different ways of showcasing the players and their skill level. And it doesn’t always need to be with the actual top players.”
On the security issues in Turkey, the Canadian believes the post-event reaction will be as positive about Turkey as the players were about Brazil and Rio following the Olympic Games, adding that he would have brought his children had both been on their mid-term break.
Insisting he respected the decisions of the stay-away players, Pelley added: “They have the right, as Independent contractors to make the decision. Our job as the tour is to provide as much information as you possibly can and that’s exactly what we did.
“There were obviously some concerns because Turkey has been a volatile country over the last year and some of the recent incidents had some cause for concern, not only for the players but ourselves.
“We always take the players, our staff and the stakeholders’ safety as paramount to us. So we provided all the information in quite a few different reports and we were very comfortable with our position. Remember, no Foreign State office has ever said there is a threat to travelling to Antalya.
“And once I got here, I walked the whole perimeter of the building at two in the morning and spent a tremendous amount of time with our security that we had brought in.
“I was very confident in our security plan and the security plan the Turkish authorities and the Federation has put in place to be very confident about the tournament.”
Harrington is delighted to be in Turkey but he was disappointed not to get up and down from under the back lip of a bunker at the 18th as he ended the day tied 58th after a one over 72
“It would have been a really good level par,” said Harrington, who birdied the fifth, then took six by blading a chip into water after overshooting the 194-yard sixth.
“It looks like a really disappointing one over but apart from the hole I took the six on, I got the most out of everything all day.
“I nearly holed my tee shot on the par three — pitched 12 feet beyond the hole, straight down the flag. On another day that would be stone dead and you are making birdie. That’s golf. I had the same shot yesterday [in the pro-am] and it was slow, so I was trying not to be defensive and I succeeded.”
Harrington decided to play his fourth shot from the same spot but came up six feet short and missed the putt.
“I would have been as annoyed with the second one as the first one because that came up six feet short,” he said. “I was being defensive.
I knew the water was there. I knew I could hit it in the water but through my own stubbornness, I said to myself, don’t be a coward and leave it six feet short. And I wasn’t.”
While he made a 20 footer from off the green for a two at the eighth, Harrington bogeyed the 10th to go two over for the day but birdied the par-five 12th and 15th coming home only to bogey the last.
“I played pretty much the same today as I played in Portugal,” he said, recalling his latest win, which came with the lowest winning aggregate of his career. "I probably hit the ball a little low for this design of greens, the firmness and fastness of them and the undulation.”
Adding that he needs to hit the ball higher, he said: “It is a tough enough course. It’s not going to take 23 under par this week.”
As for the Race to Dubai contenders, second placed Danny Willett shot a 69 to share 21st place, insisting his confidence is returning slowly.
South African Coetzee has been struggling with his form of late but earned his place in the opening tournament of the Final Series courtesy of a strong start to the 2016 season, and he capitalised in impressive fashion.
The 30 year old, a three time winner on the European Tour, carded eight birdies and a solitary bogey to finish the day one shot clear of Olesen, who birdied the 18th en route to an opening 65.
Spaniard Campillo, Li Haotong of China, Italian Manassero and Wiesberger of Austria all shared third place on five under par while Masters champion Willett was a further three shots back as he attempts to usurp Henrik Stenson at the summit of the Race to Dubai Rankings.
“I'm happy. I've been feeling like I've been playing well the last couple of weeks. The game is finally starting to come together and it's nice to see the scores starting to show.
“It's just all the stuff that I've been working on this year. It's been a long, hard process. I've not been playing really well. I just had to be patient and luckily now is as good a time as any for it to start clicking.
“You hope it will come. No one really knows in this game. I did sacrifice a bit this year, obviously not playing great and working on stuff, and not going back to the bad habits. But I'm happy I did it. It feels really comfortable out there, so I feel it will pay off.”
“I felt like in the last few weeks, my game's been really good. I felt like I played really nicely in Portugal and couldn't really get it going, but felt like I was playing really well.
“Yesterday in the Pro-Am I was playing really, really well also, so I felt like something good was going to come soon. It’s just hard work, that's always what it is in golf, really.
“I have actually played here before on the Challenge Tour. I think it was probably six or seven years ago. I didn't know that until I played yesterday in the Pro-Am and I enjoy it. I always love coming to Turkey. It has great golf courses, a great hotel and the service is fantastic. It's always very enjoyable to be here.”
“Obviously I'm happy with the score, to be up there with the leaders. That's good. I had a really nice finish with a couple of tap-ins for birdie and a nice finish on the last. It was a bit of mixed feelings out there really, a couple of holes I got a bit grumpy and maybe left some shots out there.
“I guess it's been a long year for all of us. But still, there's a lot to play for. I need to come out tomorrow again and motivate myself like I did today the last couple of holes, which are really good holes to turn it around.”
“I played really well. I started not so well on the greens, but then I got myself together and I made some really good putts. I finished great, holing a bunker shot on ten, which was a great bonus. But overall it was a solid round and I'm obviously very happy to start that way.
“I didn't play the last well at all. I hit a driver right and I had a gap, hit it to the back of the green with a four-iron and made the bunker shot. So it was not really the normal way of making birdie but that's one way of doing it.”
“It's been very solid, especially compared to last week. I only missed one green today and had so many birdie chances, so it was really good today.
“I think everything is different to last week. It's more enjoy this week, more relaxed. So hopefully I can keep the same feeling for next couple days and play well.”
“It was 167 yards to the pin for the hole in one. It was an eight-iron, the wind was helping. So a little easy eight-iron and the ball was just two meters right of the hole.
“I saw it landed kind of soft and I told my caddie, it was probably close to going in. Some people clapped but there were not many people out there, so I didn't know the ball went in. We got to the green and just two balls on the green, so I figured it was in the hole.
“I've been playing good all season. I've been solid. But obviously nice to start the tournament like this. We still have 54 holes to go, so we'll see.”
“I hit some great iron shots. I thought my iron play and wedges was really spot on. I’m still struggling to get the consistency and the flight off the tee.
“There were a few good ones, just a couple that cost me a few silly shots. It's a lot better than it has been. I gave myself some chances again. It was a lot more positive.”
Round one scores
64 G Coetzee (RSA);
65 T Olesen (Den);
66 B Wiesberger(Aut); J Campillo (Esp); L Haotong (Chn); M Manassero (Ita);
67 L Bjerregaard(Den); J Wang (Kor); D Horsey (Eng); P Larrazábal (Esp); D Drysdale (Sco); T Jaidee (Tha); D Lipsky (USA); F Aguilar (Chi);
68 J Quesne(Fra); J Walters (RSA); S Hend (Aus); B An (Kor); J Carlsson (Swe); M Warren (Sco);
69 D Willett(Eng); G Havret(Fra); R Jacquelin (Fra); P Lawrie (Sco); S Kjeldsen (Den); R Rock (Eng); N Bertasio (Ita); L Slattery (Eng); R Wattel(Fra);
70 M Korhonen (Fin); A Cañizares(Esp); W Ashun (Chn); R Karlsson (Swe); R Bland (Eng); L Westwood (Eng); R Gouveia (Por); J Lagergren (Swe); N Colsaerts(Bel); F Zanotti (Par); M Lorenzo-Vera(Fra); D Fichardt (RSA); N Elvira(Esp); B Hebert(Fra); M Carlsson(Swe); J Morrison(Eng); A Otaegui(Esp);
71 R Sterne(RSA); C Paisley(Eng); R Ramsay(Sco); D Brooks (Eng); R Paratore (Ita); T Aiken (RSA); T Fleetwood(Eng); C Shinkwin (Eng); L Jensen (Den); A Sullivan (Eng); A Johnston (Eng);
72 K Aphibarnrat (Tha); A Lahiri (Ind); M Southgate(Eng); A Levy (Fra); V Dubuisson(Fra); G Bourdy (Fra); Pádraig Harrington (Irl); T Hatton (Eng); P Edberg (Swe); H Porteous (RSA);
73 O Fisher(Eng); B Stone (RSA); M Kieffer (Ger);
74 M Ilonen(Fin); S Chawrasia (Ind); A Altuntas (am) (Tur);
75 N Holman(Aus); L Acikalin (am) (Tur);
76 J Van Zyl (RSA);
80 M Siem(Ger);
81 M Guner (am) (Tur);