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PGA Tour gears up for a season of change

| Sunday, Dec. 31, 2006

Change, it is said, is inevitable.

So, the fact that the PGA Tour has made major changes to its 2007 schedule is not surprising.

Given that change is never universally well accepted, it's not surprising that the Tour's new FedEx Cup schedule and playoff has not received unanimous support from players.

The FedEx Cup idea is this: While players go about their usual routine of competing in tournaments, making good money and winning titles, they'll also be accumulating points which will get them into the FedEx Cup playoffs at the end of the season.

The schedule of events on the PGA Tour has been shuffled, the scheduled shortened a bit, all in an attempt to give the Tour an end-of-the-season rush similar to NASCAR's Chase for the championship.

The hope is that more top players will compete more often and a high-energy four-week playoff will be the results of this multi-million dollar endeavor. Of course, there will be a $10 million payoff to the ultimate winner of the FedEx Cup. That check would be above and beyond the earnings the player racks up through the season.

"We needed to create a season where every week meant something very, very special," Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. "Where players focused not just on winning tournaments in an individual week, not just on the big tournaments that occur during the course of the year, but their entire performance over the course of the year meaning something much greater than it currently does."

It is the Tour's hope that the tweaks made to the schedule and the mega-dollars attached to the FedEx Cup series will stop a recent trend where stars such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson rarely play after the PGA Championship in August and don't even show up for an elite event like the Tour Championship.

Woods, of course, was consulted along the way in this process and while he has backed the idea, hasn't said he'll be playing every week down the stretch.

"You can still pick and choose," Woods said. "You don't have to play in those events at the end of the year, but if you want to win the title of a cup series, you're going to have to. You're only asking the guys to play -- it's going to be a lot, six out of seven weeks at the end of the year, then a week off, then probably the Ryder Cup or probably a Presidents Cup -- and that's a lot of golf, but after that you're pretty much done, which is great because our schedule goes on for so long."

The playoffs will start with a field of 144 players for the first week and be cut to 120, 70 and then 30 for the Tour Championship.

"I don't think people like change," said Jason Bohn, one of the players expected to elevate his status on Tour in 2007. "People are a little rattled by change and the players don't like it, either. Me, I think it's going to be great, going to create some excitement. I think it was a good move by the Tour."

How good?

Stay tuned.

You'll know what the players think of it by how many of the big names fully participate down the stretch. You'll know what fans think by the television ratings during the playoffs, which will take place during the end of NFL exhibition season and the beginning of college football.


OPEN HOUSE

Five golfers who don't have reservations made for the U.S. Open at Oakmont in June ... yet:

1. Steve Jones 2. David Duval 3. Fred Funk 4. Paul McGinley 5. Camilio Villegas


CHANGING COURSE

The five biggest changes to the PGA Tour (FedEx Cup) schedule for 2007:

1. Moving the Players Championship from mid-March to May 7-13, giving the PGA Tour a major each month from April through August.

2. While playing for money and major titles, PGA Tour pros will be accumulating points for seeding in the season-ending FedEx Cup chase.

3. The back-to-back events in the Dallas area -- the Byron Nelson and the Colonial -- will be separated on the calendar by nearly a month.

4. The BellSouth Classic, for years the event that preceded the Masters, will be contested six weeks after the year's first major.

5. After being held at soggy LaCosta Country Club in southern California for seven of its first eight years of existence, the World Golf Championship's Accenture Match Play Championship will move to Tucson, Ariz. in March.


UP-AND-COMING

Five players to watch in 2007:

1. J.J. Henry -- Been on the rise for three years, ready to add to his lone victory.

2. Lucas Glover -- Nine top 10s a year ago, just missed making the Ryder Cup team.

3. Brett Wetterich -- Jumped into the upper echelon in 2006 and was a bulldog on the Ryder Cup team.

4. Ryan Moore -- The former U.S. Amateur champion was good in 2006; if he stays healthy in 2007, look out.

5. Jason Bohn -- The Lewisburg, Pa., native puts himself into contention a lot and that will soon turn into a bunch of wins.


DOWNWARD SPIRAL

Five players who will fade from prominence in 2007:

1. Davis Love III -- He's won just twice since 2003.

2. Dean Wilson -- Even though he won for the first time in 2006, there will be a lot more written about the "other" Hawaiian in 2007.

3. Scott Verplank -- He hasn't won since 2001. Injuries have taken their toll.

4. Steve Flesch -- A hard worker who's great for the game, he's a consumate grinder. He just doesn't do it as well as he used to.

5. Mike Weir -- He's won once since his three-victory year in 2003. His struggles are a mystery.


TIGER PROWLING

Five reasons Tiger Woods will add at least two more majors to his resume in 2007:

1. Augusta National Golf Club.

2. The chance to win a second "Tiger-slam" at Oakmont in June.

3. Didn't play well at Carnoustie in 1999 when the British Open was held there.

4. Can't think of one reason to pick against him.

5. When it matters most, he's a man among boys.


NEWCOMERS OF NOTE

Five players to watch as rookies in 2007:

1. Anthony Kim 2. Steve Wheatcroft 3. Parker McLachlin 4. Kyle Reifers 5. Tom Johnson


PLACES TO GO

Five new tournaments on Tour in 2007:

1. Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera Maya-Cancun, Mexico, Feb. 22-25.

2. World Golf Championships-CA Championship, Miami, March 22-25.

3. Fry's Electronics Open, Scottsdale, Ariz., Oct. 18-21.

4. Running Horse Golf Championship, Fresno, Calif., Oct. 25-28.

5. Turning Stone Resort Championship, Verona, N.Y., Sept. 20-23.


UPHILL BATTLE

Five reasons why the FedEx Cup experiment won't be a raging success:

1. Players get geared up for the majors, the World Golf Championship events and, to some degree, select invitationals.

2. 100 percent participation from the superstars is a must and there's no way Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are going to play five times in six weeks at the end of the year.

3. It will struggle to capture the attention of the media and fans because of the start of football season.

4. Do the top players in the world really need another $10 million check?

5. Chances are good the Tour will find a way to alienate FedEx and the giant company will take its money and go home. Sound familiar?


BY THE NUMBERS

Five notable stats going into 2007:

1. A record 93 players earned $1 million or more in 2006. 31 of them won at least $2 million.

2. International players won 15 times in 2006, eight of them by Australians.

3. In 2006, players in their 20s won 13 times, in their 30s 28 times and the 40-somethings won seven times.

4. 13 countries were represented among the Top 125 money-winners: United States, Fiji, Sweden, Australia, England, Japan, Colombia, South Africa, Canada, South Korea, Northern Ireland, Ireland and Spain.

5. Steve Flesch played the most rounds of anyone on the PGA Tour in 2006: 119.


QUOTABLE

Five opinions from players about the FedEx Cup:

1. "We figured out a way to make it where the last four weeks, there's a lot riding on it. You know if you're 60th on the money list with four weeks to go, you can either win the FedEx Cup or you can get sent home in two weeks. You can win $10 million or you can have two weeks off. I think it adds a little excitement and a lot more pressure." -- Davis Love III, PGA Tour Policy Board member

2. "I'm not knocking it. It's a nice thing, but I'm more interested in playing well. For a million dollars, I couldn't tell you what tournaments are in the FedEx Cup. It's going to be the Tour Championship and if Tiger doesn't win, it'll be because he doesn't want to play enough. I don't see him playing, six or seven or eight weeks to win the FedEx Cup. I can guarantee you one thing, he'll be ready to win the British Open, the U.S. Open, Augusta and the PGA." -- Fred Couples.

3. "There are considerable rewards at the end of it. It gives players the opportunity at the end of the year to take some time off and the international players to go back to Australia and play events without having to be dragged into December and playing at Christmas time. I'm very excited to see this in '07, and I think you're going to get better competition out here on Tour because it's going to be a little more intense." -- Adam Scott

4. "You're going to see a lot more of us than you usually see. You know, scheduling for top players like we are will definitely be a bit different than it is now. We'll be playing a lot more here in the U.S., and I think that's always great." -- Sergio Garcia

5. "It's an attempt to try to make the end of the season more exciting and more impactful ... for fans who do watch golf. It'll be interesting how the players look at it, how the fans receive it and who comes out on top." -- Tiger Woods


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