Pluses, minuses to ending the Fall Finish
From the outset of what came to be known as the Fall Series, the concept was awkward. The PGA Tour would incessantly hype the season-long points race that was to be concluded with a big money bonus pool and an end to the season -- then play a few more events afterward.
It never made any sense, except for the fact that the PGA Tour, above all, is about providing playing opportunities to its members. It was never going to end the season in September and say, "See you in January." No way.
Hence, the fall tournaments were given a meaningless moniker when the FedEx Cup began in 2007 and were played so the tour's rank-and-file could continue its quest to gain exempt status for the following year.
This week's Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at Disney World marks the end of the Fall Finish as we know it. There will be fall tournaments next year, to be sure, but they'll be part of a new schedule for the 2014 season.
But that won't do the players needing opportunities for the 2013 season any good.
When the Tour Championship concludes at East Lake next September, the official PGA Tour season will be complete. We'll have a FedEx Cup champion and a player who leads the money list. Players will be able to vote on their player of the year and rookie of the year candidates. Those not among the top 125 point-earners through the Wyndham Championship will not be eligible for the playoffs and, depending on their status, will have to take part in the Web.com finals to earn their card for the following season.
After a week off, when the Web.com finals' last of four tournaments are played, the Presidents Cup will take place. A week later, the "new" season begins at the Frys.com Open.
It is a cleaner, simpler way for the PGA Tour season to unfold, and much like the NBA and NHL, it will take place across two calendar years as opposed to within one. And it has many positives.
But that simplicity does not come without issues, namely several lost playing opportunities.
While the PGA Tour transitions to its new schedule in 2013, at least five chances for players to earn their keep will be lost. One of them is an opposite-field event in Cancun, Mexico, played the same week as the WGC-Match Play that will move to the fall. The others are fall events at the Frys, Las Vegas, McGladrey and Disney.
In fact, this week's Disney event, which dates to 1971 and was won the first three years by Jack Nicklaus, could be the last. Children's Miracle Network is not renewing its sponsorship and the tournament's future is uncertain at best.
Say what you want about these season-ending tournaments and their overall lack of importance to a general sports audience, but they have been a big deal to those competing. Ask the guys on the top 125 bubble this week how they feel about fewer chances to play in 2013.
For those coming off the Web.com Tour and through the final PGA Tour Qualifying School (as we know it), playing opportunities will be at a premium and there will be less likelihood of those players taking weeks off. The various reshuffling of priority rankings will have more meaning. Players who counted on those tournaments after the Tour Championship will now be trying to cram their way into fields before it.
The PGA Tour recognizes this is one-year issue and has made an attempt to expand fields where possible. Some tournaments that had 132 players might now have 144, and those that had 144 might go to 156. Sponsor exemptions are being more clearly defined to take care of players coming out of the Q-School and Web.com categories.
That won't appease the masses, but there is plenty of time to plan. Heading into the 2013 season, players know they have to take care of business quickly. The old mantra "play better" means even more now.
The (lack of a) Race to Dubai
All of which sort of makes you wonder: How important is the money title if nobody is willing to play for it?
McIlroy is keen to win it alongside the PGA Tour money title, which he has already clinched. Last year, Luke Donald added the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at the last minute, then won the tournament to claim the PGA Tour money title. He then took the European title as well, becoming the first player to officially win both in the same year.
Peter Hanson, who won the BMW Masters two weeks ago, chose to bypass a chance to gain ground on McIlroy at this week's Barclays Singapore Open. The Swede lives in Florida.
"I've been on the road three weeks now since playing the India Open, and that's a long time to be away from my young family, and they're more important,'' said Hanson, who trails McIlroy by about $978,000. "It's disappointing that it won't sort of add spice to these next two events, but then, given the season I've had, winning the KLM Open, playing in a winning Ryder Cup team and beating Rory [two weeks ago] in Shanghai to win three out of four, I have to be very happy."
McIlroy can clinch with a top-10 finish, and he is scheduled to play next week's Hong Kong Open as well. Then it's two more weeks until the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Poulter, who arrived home in Florida on Monday after his victory in China, is heading out again next week to Australia, where he will defend his title at the Australian Masters.
Unlike the previous years of the Race to Dubai, the bonus pool that goes to the top 15 finishers has been cut in half. Perhaps it is a sign that the money is too good, too easy, if players are electing not to play for it.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Birdies And Bogeys
1. Ian Poulter. The Englishman backed up his strong Ryder Cup performance with his first win of the year, the WGC-HSBC Champions.
2. Guan Tianlang. The 14-year-old Chinese middle school student earned a Masters invitation with his victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur, which will make him the youngest to ever compete in the Augusta tournament.
3. Rory McIlroy. Without even playing, he has all but clinched the European Tour's money title. He has already clinched the PGA Tour money title.
2. Graeme McDowell. He got his hand caught in a door last week in China, causing some swelling and soreness. But apparently he is good to play next week in Australia and at the European Tour's season-ending event in Dubai.
3. The Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. The long-time PGA Tour event at Disney World, which dates to 1971, could be played for the final time this week as it searches for a new sponsor.
While the tournament does not offer a guaranteed spot to the winner because it does not award FedEx Cup points, this is the final full-field event of the year, and the Masters gives invitations to those who are among the top 30 on the final money list.
Jonas Blixt, who recently won the Fall Series event in Las Vegas, is among those trying to crack the top 30 this week who is not otherwise eligible for the Masters. He is 35th on the money list, about $278,000 behind No. 30 Ben Curtis, who has a Masters invitation locked up due to a victory earlier this year. Others on the outside of the top 30 not in the Masters are Johnson Wagner (34th) and Mark Wilson (37th).
Short of that, players can earn an invitation to the Masters if they are among the top 30 in the Official World Ranking by the end of the year or by late March. A victory in an official PGA Tour event starting in January also clinches a spot in the field.