Howell opened the '06 European season by beating Tiger Woods in Shanghai, and when he won Europe's flagship event, the BMW Championship at Wentworth in May, he seemed to be on his way to capturing the Order of Merit. But his back let him down, and he was noticeably stiff playing the Target World Challenge.
'I need to cut my schedule down, and Europe is going to take the hit,' Howell said. 'I'll cut four or five events out from Europe. I can't do that in America because I already play my minimum here (15 events).'
Howell played 30 times in 2006, then finished off his long year at the World Cup and the Target World Challenge.
He averaged nearly 28 starts a year in Europe alone his first nine years, but cut that down to 19 in 2005 when he joined the PGA TOUR. After leaving California, he said he planned to take seven weeks off, skipping the Middle East swing on the European Tour.
'I haven't got much choice. My body is breaking down,' Howell said. 'It's hard to watch guys playing in the sun when you're sitting in the cold and rain. But this year proved it -- my body let me down the second half of the year, and I have to do the best thing by my body.'
Howell plans to make his '07 debut at either the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am or the Nissan Open, working his way toward the Accenture Match Play Championship and eventually the Masters.
As for Europe?
'I don't think I'll play again until the BMW, which is unheard for me,' he said.
The last two months of the golf year are known as the silly season on the PGA TOUR, and its players are laughing all the way to the bank. Eight players earned more money than Darren Clarke at No. 125 on the money list.
Tiger Woods won yet another title. His victory Sunday at Sherwood made him the unofficial winner of the unofficial season money list, with $1.85 million in only two events, both victories -- the Target World Challenge and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. He narrowly topped Jim Furyk, who won Sun City and was second at the Grand Slam to finish with $1.5 million.
Woods and Furyk also finished 1-2 on the PGA TOUR money list.
Four players earned at least $1 million. Bernhard Langer ($900,000) and Marcel Siem ($700,000) earned more than they did all season, most of that coming from Germany winning the World Cup. Fred Couples had somewhat of an off year in the silly season, earning only $655,000 in three tournaments. He made $780,371 in 17 starts during the regular season.
When Cleveland Golf decided not to renew endorsement contracts this year, it left former PGA champion David Toms as a free agent. But not for long.
Just more than a month after the PGA TOUR season ended, Toms has signed a deal with TaylorMade. He still had his Cleveland irons in the bag at the Target World Challenge, but he will have his new clubs at the Mercedes-Benz Championship.
'What I was trying to do was a corporate deal and play what I wanted to,' Toms said. 'If I was patient, I think that would have worked out. But I had a nice offer on the table from TaylorMade, and I felt very comfortable with them.'
HOCH ON THE MEND
Scott Hoch is feeling better and get this -- he's even excited about the British Open.
That would be the Senior British Open, where Hoch plans to spend most of his time next year. And it's being played at Muirfield, which is his favorite links. Hoch is famous for his unflattering remarks about St. Andrews -- 'the worst piece of mess I ever played' -- but he came to the 18th hole at Muirfield four years ago needing a birdie that would have put him in a playoff. He made bogey.
Hoch has not played a full season since 2004 because of injuries, and he had surgery in October 2005 for torn tendons in the back of his wrist. Even though he turned 51 last month, he applied for a major medical exemption that will allow him 27 starts on the PGA TOUR.
Whether he takes them is doubtful. Hoch plans to start his season in Florida with the 50-and-over circuit.
'I'm not going to beat my head on the wall just to prove a point,' he said.
FRED ON THE FEDEX
Fred Couples likes the FedExCup. He's just not sure what it is, how it works or where it is played.
Couples is 47 and doesn't get wrapped up in day-to-day details, which apparently includes news from PGA TOUR headquarters. He wasn't sure where the 'playoff' events were held.
'Where are the four tournaments or five?' he said last week. 'Where are they so, so I can leave here and tell my friends?'
Told they were in New York, Boston, Chicago and then East Lake for the Tour Championship, Couples was stunned.
'So the Tour Championship is the FedExCup? I thought the TOUR Championship was like the TOUR Championship,' he said.
Couples isn't completely in the dark. He knew there would be a points system that starts in Kapalua and runs the length of the season. He was aware that 144 players are eligible for the playoffs portion of the schedule, and that there would be some cuts.
But it's safe to say the FedExCup is not a huge priority.
'If I'm really killing myself playing well at the beginning of the year, then I'll worry about it,' he said. 'But right now, I figure if I'm 40th on the money list or 80th on the money list or 144th on the money list, I get to play in the first FedExCup. Whoop-dee-doo.'
The Golf Channel will be a weekly presence on the PGA TOUR when it starts its 15-year deal in 2007, but Canada and its rabid golf fans might be left out in the cold. The Toronto Star reported last week that Canadians will have to subscribe to digital television if they want to watch the PGA TOUR on Thursday and Friday. Network coverage on the weekends will be available. ... Ken Duke has been voted the 2006 Nationwide Tour Player of the Year after leading the money list. ... Kimberly Kim, the 15-year-old U.S. Women's Amateur champion, has been given a sponsor's exemption to the LPGA Tour's season-opening SBS Open at Turtle Bay.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Sergio Garcia (No. 11) is the only player among the top 15 in the world ranking who failed to win a tournament anywhere in the world in 2006. He has gone 30 tournaments without winning.
'I don't think I'm making up ground on him, but at least I'm creeping up to a level that's competitive.' -- Adam Scott, who is No. 4 in the world behind Tiger Woods. Scott started the year at No. 9.
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