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The Upside to Slow Season

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Golf is a tough sell this time of year. One of the more amusing sights on the PGA Tour last fall was at Callaway Gardens during the Buick Challenge, a tournament that no longer exists.
 
The only 'gallery' behind the 11th green in the second round consisted of an elderly couple working as marshals and a volunteer in the tower charting shots.
 
As one of the players stood over his putt, the marshals dutifully raised signs that read, 'Hush, Y'all.'
 
Indeed, there is a hush over the PGA Tour.
 
J.L. LewisTelevision ratings are at their lowest point of the season. The fields are thin; only one player among the top 20 on the money list (Chris DiMarco) played in the 84 Lumber Classic last week. The German Masters on the European tour was worth more world ranking points than the PGA Tour event.
 
What's the point in playing?
 
Plenty.
 
J.L. Lewis, a runner-up the previous week at the John Deere Classic, was thinking about taking the week off when he decided to head for the hills of western Pennsylvania.
 
'I had aspirations of doing well, but I didn't know it was going to be this good,' Lewis said. 'I'm sure glad we came. I enjoyed myself.'
 
He played 36 holes Sunday in 14 under par, and his 62 was the lowest final round by a winner this year.
 
Those are just numbers.
 
What made the week so valuable to Lewis was a $720,000 check that moved him up to 17th on the money list, which might be enough to get him into his first Tour Championship and locks up his first trip to the Masters.
 
'I think we drove by (Augusta National) one time, but I've never actually been to the course,' Lewis said. 'I'm really looking forward to that. That's a lifetime experience.'
 
Cameron Beckman couldn't make a putt in his final round of 74, but a tie for fifth was his best finish this year, shot him up to 95th on the money list and will spare him the aggravation of Q-school in December.
 
Craig Barlow (No. 103) and Robert Damron (No. 108) also might be safe after a good week at 84 Lumber.
 
Yes, the majors are over.
 
But the drama is just starting to unfold.
 
Over the next seven weeks, every putt will matter for players trying to keep their cards by finishing in the top 125 on the money list; trying to get into the Masters by finishing in the top 40; trying to get into the Tour Championship by finishing in the top 30; and trying to get into the British Open and U.S. Open by finishing in the top 20.
 
It's even better at the top, where a half-dozen guys have a chance to win Player of the Year.
 
Tiger WoodsTiger Woods, who has been working with a new Nike driver during his month off, returns to work next week at the American Express Championship outside Atlanta.
 
He has not won in nearly three months, and for the first time in five years his name does not immediately come to mind when talking about player of the year.
 
Then again, Woods is tied with Davis Love III with most PGA Tour victories at four; has essentially locked up another scoring title; and with two $6 million events remaining, is within reach of a fifth straight money title.
 
'I've got a chance at player of the year, stroke average and money list,' he said. 'A lot of different things are up for grabs.'
 
Think this time of year doesn't matter to Vijay Singh?
 
He won the John Deere Classic two weeks ago and moved to the top of the money list, and now has a chance to become only the fourth foreign-born player to win the money title. The others were Gary Player, Greg Norman and Nick Price.
 
With one more victory, Masters champion Mike Weir might be able to wrap up player of the year, which has gone to a player with a major championship each of the last seven years. He had top 10s in two other majors, helping his cause.
 
Love and U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk will need another win to be considered, while Kenny Perry probably has to run the table.
 
Not on the list of candidates is Phil Mickelson, who has been missing in action since Firestone.
 
Mickelson is 34th on the money list and winless for the first time since 1999. If he doesn't play well next week in Atlanta, he might miss the Tour Championship for the first time in his career.
 
The good news? He'll have more time to work on that 68 mph fastball.
 
Also worth watching are the Cinderfellas, British Open champion Ben Curtis and PGA champion Shaun Micheel.
 
John Daly ('95 British Open) was the last full-time PGA Tour player to win a major and fail to qualify for the Tour Championship. Micheel is at No. 23 on the money list, while Curtis is at No. 39.
 
Both are exempt into Augusta National for the next five years.
 
Not so for Ben Crane, who won the BellSouth Classic the week before the Masters, but now is at No. 44 on the money list and needs to move up four spots in the final seven weeks.
 
Stay tuned.
 
TV ratings might be flat. Crowds may be sparse. Fields are weak.
 
Some guys are still grinding as hard as ever.
 
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