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Wednesday, October 9, 2013
PGA Tour season begins anew

By Bob Harig

Well, that was fun.

It seems so long ago (not) that Henrik Stenson was lifting both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup trophies at East Lake as the winner of the season-ending prizes, including a $10 million bonus.

Golf's offseason, specifically that of the PGA Tour, lasted 18 days.

And given that the Presidents Cup was played last week, the time between one season ending and another beginning seems even shorter.

This is a product of the PGA Tour's decision to go to a wraparound season that starts this week at the Open in California.

The bad news is that many of the top players will be absent for a majority of the six events, including three international stops.

The good news is that these tournaments now count in a variety of ways and are not just an afterthought following a long season.

Here is a rundown of what to expect over the coming weeks.

The Tournaments
They run in consecutive weeks starting at the, followed by the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (Oct. 17-20) in Las Vegas; the CIMB Classic (Oct. 24-27) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; the WGC-HSBC Champions (Oct. 31-Nov. 4) in Shanghai, China; The McGladrey Classic (Nov. 7-10) at Sea Island, Ga.; and the OHL Classic at Mayakoba (Nov. 14-17) in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Although there will still be offseason events such as the World Challenge, Shark Shootout and Father/Son Championship, the official schedule won't resume again until the first week of January at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

The Logistics
Obviously, the start to the 2013-14 season is not very smooth from a geographical standpoint. San Jose to Las Vegas might be OK. But Vegas to Malaysia to China ... not so much. And then, after China, all the way to Georgia? And then from there to Cancun?

That is why we are likely to see only a handful of big names, especially at the domestic events. And the four tournaments outside of Asia most likely will attract a good number of players (depending on their priority ranking) who just earned their cards on the Tour, either through the top 25 on the money list or the top 25 in the Tour Finals.

The Big Guys
Where can we expect to see Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy?

For Tiger, it will be none of the above. He is planning to play none of the six official PGA Tour events in the fall, opting for an exhibition with McIlroy in China and then a European Tour event in Turkey. He'll also play the World Challenge in December, which benefits his foundation.

Lefty, meanwhile, is heading overseas. He will be at the CIMB Classic, which becomes an official tournament on the PGA Tour for the first time, followed by the WGC-HSBC Champions, also now official.

McIlroy will play just one, the HSBC. The week prior, he will play another European Tour event (the BMW Masters) in China followed by the season-ending tour event in Dubai. McIlroy, who is headed to the Australian Open, is scheduled to play in Woods' World Challenge, as well.

The Perks
In years past, the, Vegas and McGladrey events counted only on that year's PGA Tour money list. No FedEx Cup points were at stake, and not even a Masters invitation went to the winner. All of that changes now. These tournaments count just like the Honda Classic and Bay Hill. A win brings 500 FedEx Cup points and a spot in the Masters (the WGC event means 550 points). It offers those players who elect to compete a chance to get a head start on securing points and maintaining playing privileges.

The Hidden Perks
Not much is being said about it, but since these tournaments are now official, they will count toward a player's minimum requirements. That can be a big deal to guys like Woods and Mickelson. Lefty, especially, has said he wants to cut back his schedule. He's already going to have two official tournaments to his credit before the calendar year turns to 2014. Woods won't have any, but McIlroy will have one, and any player who competes in any of these events will have a head start on his minimum requirements.

The Bottom Line
It is easy to make fun of golf's virtually nonexistent offseason, but this move to a wraparound schedule is a good one, even if we don't see a majority of big names competing.

The simple way to handle it would be to have no official PGA Tour events following the Tour Championship -- or extend the season a few more weeks, with a later Tour Championship date, and then shutting it down. But that won't happen. The tour is about offering playing opportunities, and it doesn't want to be on the sideline while Europe, Asia and Australia are offering those chances.

So we have these six tournaments, and if we're going to have them, they might as well count. It was always awkward in the first six years of the FedEx Cup to have the Tour Championship followed by a handful of tournaments that counted toward the money list but not the FedEx Cup. It would be like playing more baseball games following the World Series to determine who finishes in third place.

This is also better for the rank-and-file players who have come off the Tour or had lackluster PGA Tour seasons. They get a chance to find some form before the end of the calendar year, and for those who play well, they'll have their future set prior to January.

Perhaps best of all, this gives golf a clean start and finish line. The tour season begins now. It ends next year at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. If you qualify for the PGA Tour playoffs, you are exempt the following year. If you don't, and don't have some other eligibility criteria, you're fighting for your card in the Finals. It's simpler, and ultimately will become commonplace for those who follow the game.

The Offseason
Let's be honest, there just isn't one. Golf is played somewhere at the professional level nearly every week of the year.

As far as the PGA Tour is concerned, the six weeks following the Mayakoba event and prior to the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii constitute the offseason.

Until then, it's business as usual.