Finchem Hints at Schedule Makeover

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Tiger Woods might get his wish on a shorter season, although the PGA Tour is still months away from deciding how much it will change its schedule, if at all.
 
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday that moving the Tour Championship to September was under consideration as a way to make the end of the year more compelling.
 
But he cautioned that it was too early to speculate, adding that an earlier end to the official season was one of seven models the tour is studying before it begins negotiating a new television contract later in the year.
 
We may forward a schedule at the end of the year that looks very similar to what we currently do, Finchem said. We may forward a schedule that looks significantly different. It may be somewhere in between.
 
His comments came one day after the annual players meeting at The Players Championship, where the commissioner tried to shed some insight on where the tour was headed under a new TV contract.
 
On another topic, Finchem said he was working on additional guidelines that would clear up any perception of appearance money on the PGA Tour.
 
He said those guidelines would not have a chilling effect on corporate sponsors trying to put on Monday outings or on players trying to make extra money.
 
Prize money has risen dramatically from the last two contracts, from $96 million in 1998 to an estimated $252 million this year. Both four-year deals were negotiated at a time when Woods brought attention to the sport by winning the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, and becoming the first player to four win straight professional majors in 2001.
 
But the networks have said they are losing money from the last contract, estimated at about $950 million, and much of the focus has fallen on tournaments in September and October, which compete against football and get low television ratings.
 
Finchem is intrigued by what NASCAR did last year with its Chase to the Championship, in which the top 10 drivers advanced to what amounts to a 10-race showdown at the end of the year.
 
The Tour Championship is played at East Lake in Atlanta the first week of November.
 
Theres a consideration that we might want to play the Tour Championship earlier, Finchem said. But I have about seven different models that involve how we handle the end of the season and different aspects of the season.
 
Woods and Phil Mickelson have argued in recent weeks that the season is too long, starting in Hawaii the first week of January and ending just a few weeks before Thanksgiving.
 
For the future and growth and health of our tour, were too strung out, Woods said Wednesday. What other sport plays 10 months? And that includes some weeks with two tournaments.
 
Left unclear is what would happen with the rest of the PGA Tour events.
 
Among the possibilities is starting a new season in the previous calendar year, which is what the European PGA Tour has done since joint-sanctioning events in Asia and Australia. The first event of the 2005 season in Europe was the Volvo China Open the last week in November.
 
Ending the season early also might give the tour an opportunity to co-sanction tournaments overseas. Woods said events in South Africa, Asia and Australia were under consideration.
 
In an interview with The Associated Press last month in California, Finchem said he was looking at aligning the PGA Tour with other tours in terms of joint-sanctioned events.
 
Well probably do more joint-sanctioned events in the future, he said at the Match Play Championship. Wed like to play some more golf in Asia. Wed like to get down south a little bit. I dont know how it plays out.
 
Appearance money is not allowed on the PGA Tour, although it became an issue last month when the Ford Championship at Doral paid $600,000 for the foursome of Goosen, Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh to take part in a corporate outing with Ford dealers the Monday of the tournament.
 
Then, Golf World magazine obtained a proposal from IMG in which it offered a price list for top players to go to such outings, with a pledge they would look favorably upon playing in the tournament.
 
He was vague about any changes to the regulation.
 
We have regulations that relate to appearance money, and those
 
are fine, he said. In addition to that, we probably need some guidelines that relate to situations that create the perception of appearance money.
 
They will be guidelines that will give us an assurance ... that were not gravitating toward appearance money in our sport, and I think when you see them, that will come through.
 
Mark Steinberg, head of the North American golf division for IMG, said the agency would continue working with PGA Tour sponsors looking for entertainment options.
 
But we have also, because of the controversy, mutually decided to put on hold the execution of these events until further clarification, Steinberg said. We have no intention of violating regulations or policies, nor do we think weve done that.
 
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