It's a new year, but not a new PGA Tour season


We knew this was coming but that doesn’t make it any easier. The New Year greeted the golf world this morning with a new calendar and an old season.

Perhaps it’s just semantics. Maybe your average fan will tune in to the Hyundai Tournament of Champions this week oblivious to the nuances of split calendars and “wraparound schedules.” Maybe, with enough time and market testing, the idea of a 2013-14 season on the PGA Tour will feel as natural as April at Augusta National and July in Scotland.

But we aren’t there yet.

The Tour is six events into the experiment of a split-calendar season and so far the new schedule feels like a means to an end, not a meaningful attempt at change.

With the new schedule the circuit cleaned up plenty of loose ends, bringing last fall’s two events in Asia (CIMB Classic and WGC-HSBC Champions) into the FedEx Cup fold and improving the fortunes of former “Fall Series” stops in Sea Island, Ga., and Las Vegas by awarding full points and a trip to the Masters.

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The change was an earnest way to slide from point A to point B without breaking too much china, although those who endured last fall’s new Tour qualifying process probably have a different take on the merits of the Tour Finals. But that’s a column for another day.

Lost along the way, however, was the fresh start this week’s event in Kapalua provided. Where the new schedule created a hard finish at East Lake, a finale unclouded by the presence of a post-Tour Championship hinterland, it muddied the field with what can only be described as a soft opening.

Consider that Jimmy Walker will tee off on Friday for Round 1 at the Tournament of Champions some 684 points ahead of Adam Scott, who traded the chance for a fast start last fall for an Australian victory tour with his new green jacket.

Scott could have played in any number of the Tour’s fall events, although his magical month in Oz suggests he made the right call, and who is to say the FedEx Cup algorithms and arithmetic won’t play out per the cosmic script over the next nine months regardless of what transpired in the fall.

But like most things that are new the talking points seem a tad awkward and overly complicated at the moment.

Essentially, the Tour traded a traditionally clean start for a big finish at East Lake.

“Everything comes together for the first time in this FedEx Cup era at the same time. It allows the fans to get their arms around what a real season means,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in September at the Tour Championship.

“So we really think that improves things, tidies things up and allows us to promote what a season is and how these players are competing comparatively in a more effective way.”

But that tidy finish came with a cost as the new schedule marginalized an event that was already dealing with its own identity crisis. The Kapalua stop has felt more like spring training than opening day for years, missing the high-profile likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson since 2005, and the recent move to a Monday finish hasn’t exactly been a game-changer.

The wraparound lineup didn’t cause this scenario for the folks in Hawaii, but it certainly didn’t help. And it stands to reason that the bump in field quality enjoyed by the former Fall Series events will have a trickle-down effect as the Tour begins its West Coast swing.

If you’ve already locked up your Tour card for next season, like Walker, why bother wearing yourself out before the major season begins in the spring?

For Finchem & Co. the transition to a wraparound calendar was a hammer and a nail, subtle in some ways to build the circuit’s international portfolio (CIMB Classic and WGC-HSBC Champions), while indiscriminately doling out collateral damage in other ways (Hyundai Tournament of Champions).

On this, time is on the Tour’s side. Given enough traction perhaps the wraparound schedule will settle in as the new normal, but as the golf world welcomes a new calendar it sure seems strange to see the old season still on the wall.