Tour Championship a Mixed Bag of Tricks and Treats

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2005 Tour ChampionshipATLANTA, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson might have done the PGA Tour a favor.
 
Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is close to announcing a massive change in the schedule that would make the heart of the season shorter and the Tour Championship more meaningful.
 
Mickelson showed how little it means now.

Lefty decided to skip the tour's version of the All-Star game -- only the top 30 on the money list are eligible -- so he could spend Halloween with his kids. At least that was the reason making the rounds on the practice range Tuesday, and confirmed later by a tour official.
 
Yes, but did he wear a costume?
 
No one should be terribly surprised that Mickelson is a no-show at East Lake, even though the Tour Championship is one of only two tournaments he has won after the majors have ended.
 
``It's not the first time,'' Tiger Woods said with a shrug as he headed upstairs to the locker room. ``We all know he doesn't play a lot at the end of the season. Go look at his record. He doesn't play much after Firestone.''
 
Mickelson marches to his own beat, and this indeed is a familiar path.
 
He thought he had an outside chance to win the money title or perhaps even player of the year if he finished 2001 with a flourish, but when that didn't materialize -- and with the impending birth of his second daughter -- he didn't play another event the final two months of the season.
 
Mickelson made it clear in late February that the Tour Championship wasn't a priority, adding that a chance to win top awards, such as the money title, would be ``things that need to be considered.''
 
But toward the end of the interview at La Costa Resort, he spoke volumes about the Tour Championship.
 
``It's late in the year,'' he said that day. ``It's anticlimactic.''
 
But that are other issues at work here.
 
On the surface, Mickelson appears to be the first player in history to let a night of trick-or-treat get in the way of a $6.5 million tournament featuring only the very best players of the year.
 
Lefty won't say this publicly, but what annoys him is the PGA Tour's policy that players must take part in the pro-am to play in the tournament. He already cited that as the reason he didn't play at the Memorial, which also has a Tuesday pro-am. Mickelson had plans to be at Pinehurst No. 2 to prepare for the U.S. Open that week.
 
The pro-am for the Tour Championship was Tuesday, a good reason for him to pull out. Mickelson reasoned that he couldn't possibly get from San Diego to Atlanta for the pro-am after such a big night for the kids.
 
Of course, that didn't stop Scott Verplank.
 
``I can't say I agree with the rule, but I got to my hotel at 1 a.m.,'' Verplank said. ``I went trick-or-treating, left Oklahoma City at 9 p.m. But I wanted to play in this tournament.''
 
Defending champion Retief Goosen considers the Tour Championship a notch below the majors and a notch above the World Golf Championships. He's not sure why Mickelson doesn't feel the same way, but figures that's his business.
 
``He's got to have some sort of excuse not to play,'' Goosen said. ``I mean, serious excuse.''
 
Goosen didn't celebrate Halloween. Then again, this guy doesn't say boo.
 
But he knows about the pro-ams all too well. He wasn't allowed to play the Nissan Open at Riviera in February because he overslept and missed his pro-am tee time by 10 minutes.
 
``I think this pro-am thing is being revisited,'' Goosen.
 
Mickelson's absence has minor ripples. Lucas Glover, the last guy to qualify, will have to play alone in the first round. The tournament lost a fair chunk of change from the pro-am considering it cost nearly $40,000 for each three-man team of amateurs, and one team didn't have a pro.
 
But these guys set their own schedules. They have their own priorities. The phrase the tour throws around is that its players are independent contractors.
 
Halloween was a convenient excuse for Mickelson not making it to the pro-am. But ultimately, the pro-am was a convenient reason for what's truly behind Lefty skipping the Tour Championship.
 
Maybe he just doesn't want to play.
 
Mickelson made that clear earlier in the year, when he talked about pouring all his effort into winning the four majors and still having enough gas left for the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup. He won the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, his second year with a major. And while he was a flop at the '04 Ryder Cup, he managed to have enough game left to go 3-0-2 in the Presidents Cup.
 
As for the rest of the year?
 
Mickelson tied for 29th at the American Express Championship, then missed the cut at Las Vegas. He probably won't show up again until the Bob Hope Classic, the third event of 2006.
 
When the Tour Championship ends in September, only five weeks after the majors, maybe Mickelson will be interested in playing. But his absence this week should make tour officials realize that a shorter, stronger schedule won't solve everything.
 
Golf will always be about the majors.
 
``This is a great tournament,'' Verplank said. ``But it's not ever going to get more important than the four majors. That's the fundamental problem.''
 
It's not a big problem.
 
There are 29 other guys at East Lake this week, and one of them will get $1.17 million.
 
Mickelson doesn't need the money.
 
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