PGA Tour Looking for its Own World Series
What the PGA Tour wants is a World Series, its own version of a Fall Classic.
Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is pulling together the final pieces of a radical shift in the schedule to feature a shorter season and a points race that intensifies after the majors. The plan is for three blockbuster events to qualify for the Tour Championship, with perhaps a $10 million payoff to the winner.
Multiple sources involved in the discussion, all speaking on condition of anonymity because the changes have not been announced, say the three tournaments will be the Barclays Classic in New York, the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston and the Western Open in Chicago.
Still undecided is a title sponsor for the Western Open, with Chrysler in negotiations over the weekend.
Finchem will give his ``State of the Tour'' on Wednesday at the Tour Championship, although he might only be able to provide an outline of the proposed changes.
``I'm not quite sure what I'm going to say,'' Finchem said in an interview. ``We've got so many things going on. Given where we are, on the brink of going to TV (negotiations), I don't want to mislead anyone. But I want to give folks a broad sense of what we're looking at.''
A PGA Tour source said Finchem might be in position to announce The Players Championship moving from the end of March to the beginning of May, which would give golf a major event every month from April to August.
The changes are designed to put some sizzle into the end of the year, when TV ratings plummet as golf struggles to compete against football.
Finchem believes golf can hold its own in September when football is just getting started, and would fare much better than in early November when the Tour Championship typically is held. He was inspired by higher ratings the last two months at the Presidents Cup, which came down to the final match, and the American Express Championship, where Tiger Woods beat John Daly in a playoff.
``Good tournaments can compete and perform very nicely,'' Finchem said. ``And the Tour Championship doesn't do that bad, but it's too far removed. It reinforced to us that if you put something special out there, we can carry the audience with us into September. And if it's a strong enough finish, then the season becomes more important.''
This isn't the first time the tour has tried to revamp the end of the year.
It created the Vantage Championship in 1986, which offered a $1 million purse -- enormous in those days -- along with a $500,000 bonus to the winner of a season-long points competition. Also available was a $25,000 bonus for leading each of the nine statistical categories.
The event was tweaked a year later. The Nabisco Championship -- the precursor to the Tour Championship -- again offered massive prize money and a separate payoff for the points race, only all the money counted as official.
``When it first was played in 1987, it was a huge deal,'' said Curtis Strange, whose playoff victory over Tom Kite at Pebble Beach in the 1988 Nabisco determined the money title and made him golf's first $1 million man.
``It was done to help the fields at the end of the year,'' he said. ``The top players didn't play any more than they would have. But guys from (Nos.) 25 to 50 did everything in their power to get in it.''
The Tour Championship has lost some of its buzz in recent years. Its prize money, $6.5 million this year, is less than the World Golf Championships ($7.5 million) and not much more than tournaments such as the Wachovia Championship. Plus, the Tour Championship has not decided player of the year seven out of the last 10 years.
The new model would not allow for that.
Woods already has won two majors, two World Golf Championships and has clinched the money title. One source privy to the discussion said under the new model, points would be adjusted after the PGA Championship so that up to 70 players would still have a chance to qualify for the Tour Championship and win the points chase.
The source said the latest proposal is for the points race to start at the season-opening Mercedes Championships and run through the PGA Championship. Then, points would be staggered for the final month of the season, much like NASCAR's Chase for the championship.
The Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone would switch to the week before the PGA Championship instead of the week after. That means players like Woods or Phil Mickelson might have to compete in six events in seven weeks.
``We kind of have to if you want to have a chance of the playoff system, especially toward the end of the year,'' Woods said. ``If you're playing well, you're going to have to play them all.''
Woods has met with Finchem at least four times this year, and presumably has signed off on the changes.
The one fear about change is getting rid of tournaments that have languished in the fall with bad fields and low TV ratings. But as the tour gets closer to its finished product, it appears more likely that those events will be played after the Tour Championship and give some players a chance to still finish in the top 125 and keep their cards. In fact, two sources said the tour might add an event in Northern California, and a title sponsor already has been found.
It's all part of a plan to make golf compelling beyond the four majors.
``There has always been this challenge, having as long a season as we have, trying to define it for the fan,'' Finchem said. ``The reason the other sports find it easy is because their season is always about the end. We need a culminating event that's special, and that you have to play hard to get into.''
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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.
"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."
Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.
It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.
Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.
Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.
He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.
Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.
The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.
''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''
Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.
''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.
Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.
“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”
Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.