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U.S. PGA Tour loses another sponsor, FBR

MARANA, Arizona -- Not even the biggest gallery in American golf could keep the U.S. PGA Tour from losing another title sponsor.

Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced on Tuesday that FBR decided not to renew its contract after 2010 for the popular tournament outside Phoenix.

“We've obviously had — and are having — some bumps in the road,” Finchem said.

Already this year, U.S. Bank has said it was pulling out of the Milwaukee tournament after this year, and Ginn Resorts ended its sponsorship contract three years early, prompting the tour to file a lawsuit. The tour also faces uncertainty in Memphis, Tennessee where Stanford Financial was signed up through 2016 as the sponsor.

However, Travelers Insurance two weeks ago extended its sponsorship in Connecticut by four years through 2014, and Finchem said Accenture has signed up for another four years as title sponsor of this week's Match Play Championship.

FBR has been the title sponsor since 2004 at the TPC Scottsdale, which has grown into the rowdiest event on the U.S. PGA Tour.

Using cars to gauge its attendance, the tournament last year set a record with more than 538,000 fans for the weekend, including 170,802 on Saturday.

Most of them head to the par-3 16th hole, which is entirely enclosed with seats, making it the closest thing to golf being played in a stadium.

The tournament is run by The Thunderbirds, a civic group which has become one of the top fundraisers for U.S. PGA Tour charities. The group said it has begun the search for a new sponsor, a tough task in this economy.

“While we are extremely disappointed we need to find a new sponsor, we are pleased that we were able to work out a plan that gives us a reasonable timeframe to replace FBR with as little impact or disruption as possible,” said Tim Louis, head of The Thunderbirds.

The tournament began in 1932 as the Arizona Open and went 70 years without a title sponsor.

Finchem said Phoenix without a sponsor would not affect its spot on the schedule, which usually is the week of the Super Bowl. Next year, it is scheduled to be played the week after the Super Bowl.

The tour now has 21 sponsors under contract through 2012, and Finchem said more extensions would be announced in the spring.

“If I had to look at it today, and you asked me a year ago and painted the economic picture of what we would be facing at the end of February 2009, I would not have been able to project us doing this well,” he said. “That's not to say, however, that we are not going to have more bumps in the road. I suspect we will. There's just too much pressure on too many companies.

“It would be unrealistic to think that we're not going to have turnover, we're not going to have problems.”

Finchem did not release financial terms of the deals with Travelers and Accenture, but he suggested it was a slight increase.

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