Face it, the drama has gone away

Originally Published: October 31, 2006
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

Plenty of questions still are to be answered about next year's FedEx Cup schedule on the PGA Tour, one that will shrink the main portion of the season and conclude with a four-tournament playoff series.

There are enough unknowns to cause concern, but not enough to override the decision to make such a dramatic change.

This week's Tour Championship is proof.

When the season's final, big-money event cannot draw the game's two biggest names, something is wrong. Whether the new FedEx Cup schedule is the answer remains to be seen, but the loss of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson this week is a mini-validation for the new system.

The golf season is simply too long.

Woods hasn't played in more than a month. Mickelson shut it down after the Ryder Cup. The big names in golf have made only sporadic appearances of late, some split between the PGA Tour and Europe. And then there is big, bad football, which saps the life out of these late-season events, mostly because golf fans -- who, for the most part, also like other sports -- are watching games on the gridiron.

So we come to the final event on the PGA Tour schedule almost looking to just get it over with.

There was more drama at Sunday's season-ending Champions Tour event, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, where the season-long race for a $1 million annuity came down to a missed 5-footer on the final green by Loren Roberts.

In a few weeks, the LPGA Tour season will conclude with the ADT Championship, which has gone to a quirky but still compelling conclusion. The 32-player field will be cut to eight participants by Sunday, when they will start over and play 18 holes for $1 million. The runner-up gets just $100,000, so the tournament is hardly a money grab.

In Atlanta, there is absolutely no drama left, not with Woods resting up for a two-week jaunt to Asia. Although Woods long ago wrapped up the money title and player of the year honors, he does still have that six-tournament winning streak that would have had people talking this week.

A Mickelson appearance might have served only for more opportunities to pile on, as Lefty has made it clear that his heart is not into it at this time of year. Say what you want about that, but at least Mickelson is true to his convictions. When he says he is shutting it down, he is shutting it down, not even going to the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, an event he qualified for by winning the Masters. He is not expected back until January at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

But here is the rub: Both Woods and Mickelson campaigned for a shorter season. They publicly said they were on board with the new FedEx Cup series that will conclude in mid-September, six weeks earlier than this year. And they have set themselves up for some criticism if they don't support it.

Next year's season will conclude with the top players all but being required to play six out of seven weeks. Starting at the British Open in July -- when the season typically seems like it is miles from the finish line -- there are seven of nine weeks through the Tour Championship that will seemingly be must-play events. That's the same schedule Woods recently kept, which he said left him exhausted and needing to recharge his batteries.

It's a lot of golf and will no doubt lead to other drawbacks in the 2007 schedule.

But if all of the top players sign on, it is a much better conclusion than one in the middle of football season with the best players watching from the sideline.

At least it seems better right now.

QUICK TAKE
He didn't win on Sunday at the Chrysler Championship, but Paul Goydos still felt like a winner afterward.

A PGA Tour veteran whose lone victory came at the 1996 Bay Hill Invitational, Goydos, 42, was facing a return to the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. He came into the week 160th on the money list. He had missed the cut by "a billion'' at Disney. And when you've played poorly most of the year, it is difficult to think you are going to put it all together in one week.

But that's what Goydos did. He put himself in position to win the tournament, entering the final round one shot behind eventual winner K.J. Choi. He eventually finished four back, but the tie for second earned him $486,400 and vaulted him all the way to 97th on the money list. No Q School.

"Considering how I played all year, obviously this is a pretty good week,'' Goydos said.

MAILBAG: ASK BOB HARIG
Bob HarigGot a question about the PGA Tour? Ask ESPN.com golf writer Bob Harig, who will answer some inquiries in his column each week.

Q. Will the $10 million prize for next year's FedEx Cup be counted as official money?
Paul
Sylvania, Ohio

A. No, that is simply bonus money. Each of the playoff events, however, will offer prize money that will count toward the money title.

Q. What happened to Beth Bauer? I remember when she came out of Duke early, she was supposed to be the next big thing on the LPGA Tour.
Dave
Fayetteville, N.C.

A. Bauer was the LPGA Tour rookie of the year in 2002 but it's been one problem after another since. She has gone through equipment changes, swing changes and coaches trying to get back on track. Bauer, 26, made just two cuts in 17 starts and earned just over $24,000. She missed the cut in her last six events and did not shoot better than 74 in any of them. For the year, Bauer shot just two rounds in the 60s. She is expected to return to the LPGA Tour's qualifying tournament.

Q. I keep hearing that the courses in Bandon, Ore., stack up with any in the country. Will there ever be a PGA Tour event at any of these venues?
Jim
Battleground, Wash.

A. Not anytime soon. The PGA Tour's new television contract, which begins with the 2007 season, is for six years, meaning most of the events are locked into the schedule through 2012. There is a possibility new events could crop up in the Fall Series portion of the schedule. Or, if a sponsor bails out, anything could happen. The tour has long neglected the Northwest, as Seattle is also without a tour event. As far as Bandon Dunes, there would also be logistical issues to consider that go beyond the worthiness of the venues from a playing standpoint.


Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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