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Las Vegas PGA tournament finally matters

A not-so-wacky prediction about an oh-so-wacky guy: Should the day come when Tiger Woods returns here to play in the annual PGA Tour event and should the Sunday come when he again is presented its championship trophy and should the moment arrive when Woods slips on a red Shriners fez to match his Nike shirt, Gary Dunwoody will collapse with unmatched jubilation.

He will lay on the 18th green at TPC Summerlin and kick his feet in the air and lift his arms to the sky and shriek like a 10-year old on his first roller-coaster ride. He will scream, “OH, GOOD GOLLY!” more than you’ll hear at a family reunion barbecue in Little Rock, Ark.

He will make the squawking man in the chicken suit who interrupts U.S. Open television interviews appear normal.

Heck, knowing Dunwoody, he might even wear a chicken suit.

You know what?

He is 72 … and would deserve every silly moment.

The trick would be convincing Adam Sperling to join him, which I have to believe is possible if someone tempts him with a signed Derek Jeter jersey.

If progress means the world can become increasingly better in terms of science and technology and modernization and liberty and quality of life and so on, throw in the professional golf tournament that plays out here each year.

Perception rules the minds of sports fans and any PGA event that doesn’t award a full allotment of FedEx Cup points is seen as a minor league event. Dunwoody and Sperling have worked tirelessly to change that for their tournament.

Patience paid off.

The PGA Tour will begin its 2013 season with Fall Series events, meaning come this time next year, Sperling will be preparing to direct an October tournament that will offer a field far more recognizable than the ones he has tried selling to a lukewarm public for nearly four years.

It’s unknown whether that means Woods or Phil Mickelson will choose to play in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, but there is a chance now to annually draw one or both of the world’s most famous players and other names the average fan not only knows, but follows.

Woods won his first professional tournament here. Jim Furyk has won three times in Las Vegas. Mickelson loves the town. Bubba Watson played here as a tour rookie in 2006.

Maybe they all come.

Maybe just a few.

Translation: On paper, the tournament again matters on the course.

It always has mattered off it since Shriners became the title sponsor, and even an increase in prestige (FedEx Cup points) and purse (from $4.5 million to $6 million) in 2013 won’t and shouldn’t change those peripheral but significant moments surrounding the event that help tens of thousands of children, to those in need of shoes and dental care and other of life’s basic needs.

But it’s still a golf tournament, which means your perceived worth is based largely on your field, which means attendance numbers that have been nothing to shout about should immediately climb next year.

“I’m tickled to death,” said Dunwoody, the Shriner whose persistence with PGA Tour officials the last several years paid off with this announcement. “I have wanted more than anything to keep the tournament in Las Vegas. The community deserves to have a FedEx event. It’s where we want to be, where we want to stay.”

It’s the most important part in all of this: Shriners agreed to a five-year extension as title sponsor and the $6 million purse in 2013 will grow annually under terms of the new deal, meaning at a time when other tournaments are struggling to remain viable and discover such support, the Las Vegas event is on solid financial footing.

Justin Timberlake’s continued involvement with the event will be determined shortly before this year’s tournament (Oct. 4-7), but the fact remains that despite all his star power, Timberlake hasn’t come close to fulfilling all that was promised by his side when the marriage was formed, although his over-the-top group of self-important enablers has given us much amusement.

The truth: This event will take a major step forward in offering full FedEx Cup points because of Dunwoody and Sperling, because a 72-year old lovable and loony Shriner who says things like “Oh, good golly,” and “Tickled to death,” and a talented 30-year old tournament director who grew up in New York dreaming about playing for the Yankees wanted more for Las Vegas and its pro golf tournament.

“I think what this does is put us on a more even playing field,” Sperling said. “It makes our tournament an enticing option for some of the more (popular players). This is huge. I know I’m biased, but this is great news for the entire community.”

Please, someone get Dunwoody a chicken suit.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 AM and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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