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Money Still Matters on PGA TOUR

HONOLULU -- Jack Nicklaus made $33.33 at his first PGA TOUR event in 1962. Curtis Strange was the first to earn $1 million in one season in 1988. The TOUR celebrated Vijay Singh in 2004 for becoming the first $10 million man in golf.
Aside from claret jugs and green jackets, success in golf has been measured by money.
The PGA TOUR is now trying to convince you that money doesn't matter. And getting its players -- not to mention fans -- to believe that might be the toughest obstacle in this transition to the points-based FedExCup.
Joe Durant is switching irons for the first time in eight years, a process that took him close to a year. It's always a risk whenever a player tinkers with his equipment, and that's why Durant said he had to be absolutely sure he was doing the right thing.
'With where the purses are now and the chances we have week after week, you don't want to go out with equipment you're not comfortable with,' he said.
Wrong answer, Joe.
What he should have said was, 'With all the FedExCup points available week after week ...'
The PGA TOUR has 19 events this year with at least a $6 million purse, up from 13 events a year ago. Total prize money will approach $270 million, double what it was in 1999 when the first Tiger Woods-driven television contract began.
That's good news.
But for an organization that walks around with thumbs under its lapels, it treats this like no news at all.
Sunday morning at Kapalua, a PGA TOUR official was going over his notes when he mentioned the two milestones at stake for Singh, who had a three-shot lead. A victory would allow him to surpass Sam Snead for most victories in his 40s, and he would crack $50 million in career earnings. There was no mention of his 4,500 points to become the first FedExCup leader.
Money is a hard habit to break.
Tim Herron was 11 shots out of the lead going into the final round of the Mercedes-Benz Championship, no chance to win.
'If I'm not in position to win a tournament, I play to make as much money as I can,' Herron said.
Did anyone really expect him to say he was playing for points?
'It's going to be confusing for a while,' David Toms said. 'You know what a top 10 does for you moneywise, but what's a top 10 do for you in points? That's something guys will have to figure out.'
Toms tied for eighth at Kapalua and earned 725 points, whatever that means. He also got $170,000, which could go toward buying his own sky box at LSU football games.
Yes, money still counts for something.
Money doesn't drive the best players, but it has always been the chief statistic associated with success. The tour still uses money to determine who keeps their cards.
'The reason we can play 19 events for $6 million is because we have a points race, because we've changed the structure of the tour, because we have a new TV contract,' Jim Furyk said. 'We need to promote that and get the public aware that we're playing for points. But it's going to be difficult. It's going to take awhile for the players to get used to.'
The tour is doing what it can to make the money list obsolete. The statistics it makes available to The Associated Press show leaders in the FedExCup standings, followed by their positions on the money list. Its hope is that newspapers will publish only the points, although the Honolulu Star-Bulletin ran only the top money leaders Tuesday.
And if the money list becomes passe, what becomes of the Arnold Palmer Trophy for winning the money title?
PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem said the trophy will be awarded at the end of the year -- FedExCup bonus money will not count toward the official money list -- and Furyk said it will remain a goal for most players.
'If it's got Arnold Palmer's name on it, it's going to be important,' Furyk said. 'It's not going to be the most important thing. It's not going to make me play more events. But it's still nice to win.'
The strangest part of the season is that the money list does matter -- but not right now.
All that counts for the first eight months are the FedExCup points. The top 144 advance to the 'playoffs,' and players gradually are eliminated until the top 30 advance to the Tour Championship, with a $10 million bonus (deferred money) going to the winner.
A week later, everything reverts to the money list.
The top 30 in FedExCup points are frozen. The tour will have a new exemption category starting in 2008 that ranks the top 30 from the FedExCup standing behind tournaments winners and ahead of the top 125 on the money list. They will be eligible for all the invitationals, no matter where they finish on the money list.
The Arnold Palmer Trophy won't be decided until after the seven tournaments in the fall, and whoever wins the FedExCup is not a lock to win the money title. As much as Singh plays, he could finish $2 million behind Woods through the FedExCup, play three times in the fall and finish ahead of him on the money list.
Still to be determined is whether the majors care more about money or points. They tour hopes they consider both.
The Masters, for example, currently invites the top 40 on the money list. It's entirely possible that someone who finishes 30th in the FedExCup winds up 58th on the money list. That might help the tour if players feel they have to play in the fall to qualify for majors.
Their success would be measured the old-fashioned way.
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