- Jason Sobel, Senior Golf Writer
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Joe Durant caused a bit of a stir during his post-second-round interview with the media at last week's Tour Championship, but it had nothing to do with his comments about next year's FedEx Cup format or whether drug testing should be instituted on the PGA Tour. Instead, observers were taken aback when the Fall Finish winner revealed his upcoming schedule.
"I'm done after this until the [2007 season-opening] Mercedes [Championships]," said Durant, hardly echoing the offseason sentiments of so many of his peers.
Truth be told, there really is no offseason for most elite-level professional golfers. Though the PGA Tour schedule officially came to a close at East Lake, we've now reached golf's Silly Season, a time of year when the holidays ostensibly come early for the game's best players, as they'll receive gift-wrapped piles of cash to ply their crafts in various sun-splashed locales while much of the world shivers with jealousy.
Can't you just see Fred Couples, the undisputed King of the Silly Season, skipping to the mailbox each day in anticipation of these invitations, all the while singing, "It's the most wonderful time of the year?"
Many players don't even get their swings warmed up until the calendar hits November. Exhibit A is Couples himself, who hadn't completed a full tournament start since August due to health issues, but was out there on the first weekend of the Silly Season, teamed with Annika Sorenstam at the Merrill Lynch Shootout, during which the duo finished last in the 12-team field.
Exhibit B: Tiger Woods. The game's top-ranked player eschewed the Tour Championship in search of some well-deserved rest, but just one week later could be seen finishing second at the HSBC Champions tournament in China -- a Silly Season event in American ethnocentric thoughts only; it's part of the European and Asian Tour's regular season schedules.
If it seems like Woods competes more in the winter months than during the summer, well, there's a reason for that. He actually does. This week, Tiger will play in the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan, followed by the PGA Grand Slam of Golf and his own Target World Challenge in coming weeks.
The latter two have become the crown jewels of the Silly Season. Competed at Poipu Bay in Hawaii, the Grand Slam's four-man field annually features each of the major championship winners. With Woods having claimed two such titles this year (and since Masters champ Phil Mickelson has declined the invitation), he and U.S. Open winner Geoff Ogilvy will be joined by wild cards Mike Weir and Jim Furyk in the two days before Thanksgiving.
With Woods playing host, the Target is composed of an elite 16-man field at Sherwood CC, beginning Dec. 14. This year's field features 12 of the world's top 19 players, with four extra exemptions given to fan favorites Darren Clarke, Davis Love III, John Daly and, yes, Couples.
The fact that the Grand Slam and Target likely have eclipsed all others in fan interest speaks volumes about the Skins Game, which drew more attraction last year for eventual champion Fred Funk having to don a pink flowered skirt (after being outdriven by fellow competitor Sorenstam) than for the actual results. Funk's back for this year's edition, which takes place Nov. 24-26, as are Stephen Ames, Daly and, yes, Couples.
Of course, these are only a few of the tournaments that dot the Silly Season landscape. There's the Father-Son Challenge, a truly fun event in which top professionals -- many of whom are Hall of Famers (Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Larry Nelson, Vijay Singh, et al.) -- team with their offspring in hopes of a title. There's the Tommy Bahama Challenge, pitting young U.S. players against their up-and-coming international peers. There's the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge, in which players from the PGA, LPGA and Champions tours square off.
Then again, not all tournaments being conducted this time of year are so "silly" after all. In addition to the aforementioned co-sanctioned European/Asian Tour events, two-man teams from 24 countries will compete in the WGC-World Cup in Barbados; Robert Allenby will defend his Triple Crown at Australia's three major championships; and thousands of players will fight for their professional lives in qualifying tournaments for the PGA, LPGA and Champions tours.
Whew. That's a lot of golf being played during the presumably dormant winter months of the Silly Season. Perhaps the real silly concept is that there is an offseason at all.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
3dMicah Adams, ESPN Stats & Information