Updated: January 7, 2010, 3:42 PM ET

PGA Tour could proffer a better start to season

Harig By Bob Harig
ESPN.com
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The behemoth that is football in general and the NFL in particular caused the PGA Tour to retreat just a few years ago. Not wanting to compete with the pros in pads -- not to mention the college lads -- the tour shortened its season.

Instead of playing into November, the tour created the FedEx Cup and had its big finale in September, then let the rank and file play in obscurity while the rest of America turned its attention to the gridiron.

But if football scared the tour away from the fall, what about now?

In case you didn't notice, the start of the 2010 PGA Tour season begins Thursday in Hawaii at the SBS Championship. It is a great spot for a golf tournament, and Kapalua no doubt will captivate those who tune in.

And yet, if golf competes with football in the fall, it does not get any easier now.

Sure, there are fewer teams and games to follow, but all you have Thursday night is college football's national championship game between Alabama and Texas.

And on Saturday and Sunday, you have one of the best weekends of the NFL season -- the wild-card weekend of playoffs, with two games on Saturday and two on Sunday. Next weekend offers the same fare -- four more weekend games while the PGA Tour plays its second tournament of the season with little buzz.

If you don't want to go up against the start of the regular season, you certainly could argue not fighting the football games that are most meaningful.

Sure, it also doesn't help prominent players continue to take a pass on the SBS.

This year it is Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson. Woods, of course, has other worries, but he was unlikely to play anyway. The tournament has long been off Mickelson's schedule. And Stenson, who is not a PGA Tour member, is not unlike players such as Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia who qualified but did not show up last year.

There have been calls to change the format, invite more players, etc.

Why not simply delay the start of the PGA Tour season a few weeks? A perfect place to begin would be the week presently occupied by the San Diego Open. It is the open week between the NFC and AFC title games and the Super Bowl. No matter where a tournament is played that week, it would get a nice run, unopposed. The following week perhaps you could play a tournament that ends on Saturday, the day before Super Bowl Sunday.

To help, perhaps a new format for the season-opening tournament -- whether it is in Hawaii or elsewhere -- is in order. Does any sport have a meeker opening than golf? A winners-only event sounds fine, but just 28 players are in Hawaii this week.

Maybe one of the World Golf Championship events could kick off the season. And make it the only tournament of the season that is mandatory for those eligible. There certainly are hurdles to overcome to make it work, and nobody is suggesting they would be easy. But golf can do better.

Tiger and the Canadian doctor

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem bristled when the subject came up in Hawaii this week, but questions surrounding Tiger Woods and his link to a Canadian doctor who allegedly has prescribed HGH to other athletes is fair game, especially with Woods nowhere to be found and doing nothing to quell all the negativity surrounding him.

Woods, according to The New York Times, was visited by Dr. Anthony Galea on several occasions to take part in a blood-churning procedure designed to help his surgically repaired knee heal more quickly. The procedure is allowed under the tour's anti-doping guidelines, but Galea has been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, hence the raised eyebrows where Woods is concerned.

"I had no concerns about the procedure that was reported," Finchem said.

The question that if Finchem had concerns about whether Woods used HGH or any other PED was not answered, although Finchem said during a December news conference, "There is no reason for me to be concerned because I have no information to be concerned."

You would think a doctor linked to HGH who has treated Woods would be of enough concern.

But keep in mind that Woods was one of the strongest proponents for the PGA Tour to begin its drug-testing program, which started on July 1, 2008. Finchem initially was against the idea.

In the summer of 2006, before the tour had put a policy into place, Woods said, "I don't know when we could get that implemented. Tomorrow would be fine with me."

Woods said he didn't believe anyone was using steroids at the time but thought it could be an issue in the future.

"I think we should be proactive instead of reactive," he said then. "I just think we should be ahead of it and keep our sport as pure as can be. This is a great sport, and it's always been clean."

Harig's Head-scratcher of the Week

We are now just shy of six weeks into the Tiger Woods offseason story and four weeks since he announced his indefinite leave from the game, and far more questions remain than answers.

But is anyone wondering about the way the Florida Highway Patrol has conducted its business as it relates to Woods? And does Woods himself -- or his people -- have any issues with it? Or go along with it?

Many thought last week's report by an Orlando television station recounting the FHP's handling of Woods' Nov. 27 accident was old news. But it wasn't. WESH-TV, an NBC affiliate in Orlando, got an exclusive interview with an FHP spokesperson who acknowledged that Woods had been interviewed on Dec. 1 -- the same day the organization announced that Woods had been fined and the case was closed.

But on that day, the FHP let the world believe that Woods never consented to be interviewed. And that led to a month of speculation about Woods' whereabouts, whether he had been more severely injured in the auto accident, if spousal abuse had been involved and if he needed surgery to correct any problems.

According to the Dec. 30 WESH report, Woods suffered only a "fat lip," which would seem to put to rest many of the wild theories that have been going around.

And it makes you wonder why anyone -- the FHP, the Woods camp -- would let it get to that point.

So you want to play ...

Kapalua. The site of this week's SBS Championship is one of the most scenic on the PGA Tour and sure to have snowbound golfers on the mainland pining for such an opportunity. One of the reasons a venue such as Kapalua gets into the tournament-hosting business is for the exposure a tournament brings -- with the hope that we will want to play there.

[+] Enlarge
Kirk Aeder/Icon SMIKapalua's Plantation Course has the look of a little slice of paradise, especially while a majority of the United States suffers through a cold snap in January.

The Plantation Course at Kapalua is one of two on the property and where the PGA Tour pros will tee it up this week in the first tournament of the new season. Designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, it has hosted PGA Tour pros in the season opener since 1999. It measures 7,411 yards and plays to par-73, although the regular tees play to 6,500 yards and the forward tees to less than 6,000.

How much? Rates vary based on the time of year, but the most recent green and cart fees for the Plantation Course were $298, with a discount to $238 for teeing off after 11 a.m. Registered guests at the resort, including the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, pay $218 and $185. Caddies as well as junior rates are also available.

Click here for more information.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

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