AKRON, Ohio – A shorter season on the PGA Tour in 2013 will mean slightly larger fields for as many as nine tournaments.
It's a move designed to help players who earn their cards through PGA Tour Qualifying School or the Web.com Tour. They are at the bottom of the priority rankings for getting into tournaments, and spots can be rare in the early part of the season with smaller fields due to limited daylight. If they didn't qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, they at least had four Fall Series tournaments to make up ground to get into the top 125 and keep their cards.
But next year is all about transition. The Tour season ends with the Tour Championship, and after the three-tournament series that effectively replaces Q-School, the new season (2013-14) will start in October. The Fall Series will be the start of the new year.
''You have four fewer tournaments, and that puts a strain on playing opportunities,'' said Andy Pazder, the Tour's chief of operations.
The Tour's policy board is asking certain tournaments to expand their fields for only 2013. Tournaments in March and April typically have 144 players because of earlier sunsets. Some of them are being asked to expand those fields to 156 players.
Pazder conceded that it puts the tournaments in a ''precarious position'' to make the cut on Friday. The pace is so slow at some spots that they can't make the cut by Friday even without expanding the fields. Among those expected to be left alone are Riviera, Honolulu and Pebble Beach, which recently reduced its field from 180 players to 156 players to improve the pace of the pro-am format.
The limited-field events are not off the hook. The Arnold Palmer Invitational, AT&T National and Colonial are likely to go from 120 players to 132 players. Spared from the list is the Memorial, run by Jack Nicklaus, which recently agreed to ramp up its field from 105 players to 120 players.
That's not the only boost for the Q-School and Web.com graduates.
Tournaments typically have eight sponsor exemptions - two designated for Tour members not eligible (such as John Daly), two for Q-School and Web.com graduates and four unrestricted. The formula for next year will be only two unrestricted exemptions and four exemptions set aside for Q-School and Web.com grads. The Tour is also doing away with the commissioner's exemption for foreign players, which is not used very much, anyway.
In all, it should create close to 90 additional spots to help alleviate not having four Fall Series events at the end of the year.
RYDER CUP PUSH: The next two weeks will decide the eight Americans who make the Ryder Cup team, and while there are plenty of points at stake, those on the outside have their work cut out for them.
Hunter Mahan occupies No. 8 in the standings, but he is $653,522 ahead of PGA champion Keegan Bradley in ninth place. The money (or points) is double at the PGA Championship, the final week to earn an automatic spot.
Bradley was left off the Presidents Cup team last year, even though his two wins included a major.
''I really want this pretty bad, and that can be a negative,'' Bradley said. ''I know that if I have a decent last end of the year, I'll be on that team. But this U.S. team is one of the strongest in recent history, I would say, with all major winners coming from America, except the British Open.''
Indeed, six of the top eight have either won multiple times (Tiger Woods, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Mahan) or won a major worth double points (Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson). The others are Matt Kuchar, who won The Players Championship, and Phil Mickelson, who won Pebble Beach, lost in a playoff at Riviera and tied for third at the Masters.
Missing from the top eight are some usual suspects - Dustin Johnson at No. 12, Steve Stricker at No. 13 and Jim Furyk, who has played on every U.S. team since making his debut in the 1997 Ryder Cup. Rickie Fowler is at No. 10 and Brandt Snedeker is No. 11.
Snedeker lost about 160 points on the final hole of the British Open when he made a bogey, Woods made a birdie, and they tied for third. If Snedeker had been in third place alone, he would be slightly ahead of Fowler.
A year ago, Snedeker could have made the U.S. team for the Presidents Cup by closing with a 1-over 72. Instead, he had a 74 in the BMW Championship and missed out.
''This is a position I'm used to,'' Snedeker said. ''Unfortunately, I've never been on the inside. I've been on the outside looking in. I've got to play well, and if I don't, I have nobody to blame but myself.''
Davis Love III will announce on Sept. 4 his four captain's picks. Just like making the team, it won't be easy.
PGA FIELD: William McGirt was closer than ever to playing in his first major championship.
In another example of how every shot counts, McGirt missed getting into the PGA Championship by $11. The PGA of America went down to No. 78 on its points list to fill the field of 156 players for next week at Kiawah Island. The points list is based on Tour earnings from the Bridgestone Invitational last year through the Canadian Open.
Jimmy Walker, who got the last spot, had $1,189,510. McGirt was at No. 79 with $1,189,499.
McGirt tied for second in the Canadian Open. Finishing in second place alone (he made bogey on the last hole) or winning would have sent him to Kiawah. Alas, all is not lost. McGirt is the first alternate, and two spots are held open in case the winners of the Reno-Tahoe Open or Bridgestone Invitational are not already eligible for the PGA Championship.
The PGA Championship fills out its field with special invitations, which essentially is a way for it to get as many from the top 100 in the world. But even those who fell out of the top 100 in the last few weeks were given exemptions - Michael Hoey of Northern Ireland, Thomas Aiken of South Africa and Robert Allenby. The PGA of America went down to No. 108 - Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand - for its invitations.
The PGA Championship has all of the top 108 players in the world ranking.
DIVOTS: The seventh hole at Bethpage Black, which played as a par 4 at 525 yards for the U.S. Open in 2009, will be returned to a par 5 for The Barclays later this month. That received strong approval from Phil Mickelson. ''I've always been a fan of the original designer's interests in how a golf hole is designed to play from its inception, as opposed to somebody else who comes in and tries to alter it for their own benefit or ego,'' he said, without mentioning names. ... British Open champion Ernie Els has already said he would return to the Frys.com Open at CordeValle, part of the Fall Series. ... He is friends with Hasso Plattner, co-founder of SAP, who owns CordeValle. ... Every winner of a Tour event that awards full FedEx Cup points has qualified for the Bridgestone Invitational except for one - Ben Curtis, who lives 15 minutes from Firestone. Curtis won the Texas Open, which had the weakest field of the year.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Brendan Steele, tied for the lead going into the final round of the PGA Championship a year ago, is the fifth alternate this year.
FINAL WORD: ''I had trouble getting the butterflies to fly in formation.'' – William McGirt, in the final group for the first time on Tour at the Canadian Open. He finished one shot back of winner Scott Piercy.