For those who may have blinked and missed the PGA Tour’s offseason, the circuit was back at it again last week in Napa, Calif. The 2018-19 season will feature a dramatic makeover of the Tour's schedule, and to get you ready for the new calendar, we offer this week’s Cut Line.
Elephants in the room. The Tour identified two major issues when it reworked its schedule – going head-to-head with football in the fall, and a finish at the Tour Championship that left too many fans confused or disinterested.
Both of those issues have been addressed by the new schedule, with the season ending Aug. 25 at East Lake and a revamped format for the finale (although that might lead to even more confusion; see MDF).
The new schedule will also feature five consecutive months with a marquee event, with The Players Championship returning to March and the PGA Championship relocating to May.
By all accounts there was nothing about this process that was easy, and if nothing else, these basic elements of the extreme makeover will be upgrades.
The fall. It remains to be seen how the wraparound portion of the Tour calendar will impact this normally quiet part of the schedule, but if the fields for the next few events in Asia are any indication, look for some improvement here.
Plenty of top players made the trip to this week’s CIMB Classic, including Round 2 leaders Gary Woodland and Marc Leishman, and next week’s CJ Cup will feature a similarly solid cast, including Justin Thomas and Player of the Year Brooks Koepka.
The condensed schedule, combined with one less playoff event, has placed an added importance on players getting off to fast starts. There’s no better way to achieve that than playing the limited-field, no-cut stops in Asia.
Tweet of the week:
Actually, the Wyndham Championship tournament director tweeted this last month, but his enthusiasm is worth noting as we examine the new schedule.
With one fewer playoff event starting next year, the Wyndham Championship takes on added importance for players trying to qualify or improve their status for the postseason. The addition of the Wyndham Rewards Top 10, a $10 million bonus that will be awarded the top 10 regular-season players, will also boost the profile of what has become one of the Tour’s most creative events.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
East Lake anxiety. The new strokes-based format for the Tour Championship will, in theory, help clean up the confusion that has dominated the finale, avoiding the awkward, double-trophy presentation when the winner at East Lake doesn’t win the FedExCup.
What remains to be seen, however, is how fans will embrace what is essentially a professional event with handicaps. Next season, the playoff points leader will begin the week at the Tour Championship at 10 under par, with starting scores decreasing from there down to even par.
While the new format may simplify the ending, it will also lead to a wave of criticism when the Tour Championship and FedExCup winner didn’t actually have the best week at East Lake.
You only need to apply the strokes-based format to this year’s finale to get an idea of the potential pitfalls of the new system. Had the new format been used this year, Justin Rose, who actually tied for fourth place, would have finished at 14 under and beaten Tiger Woods, who actually won the event by two shots.
Imagine the outrage if Woods would have been denied his 80th Tour victory, and his first triumph in five years..
RIP. The new schedule will also feature some new stops with first-year tournaments in Detroit (Rocket Mortgage Classic) and Minnesota (3M Open), but they came at a cost.
Gone from the line up will be the Quicken Loans National and the World Golf Championship in Akron, Ohio.
The WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational replaces the Akron event, and comes just after The Open in Memphis, while the Washington, D.C., stop appears to have succumbed to indifference. It’s the cost of doing business sometimes, but that won’t ease the blow for the fans in markets that no longer have Tour events.
The spring. The condensed schedule makes for more high-profile events in a smaller window, and at no point will that be more obvious than in the spring.
Staring in late February, the Tour schedule will include two World Golf Championships, The Players and the Masters in an eight-week window. That stretch also includes popular events like the Genesis Open, the Honda Classic and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
If players thought the end of last season was a grind, just imagine the faces driving down Magnolia Lane in April for the year’s first major after what may be an even more grueling stretch.
Cross-the-pond consequences. The impact the PGA Tour's new lineup will have on the European Tour remains to be seen.
Of particular concern will be how the new schedule fits in with what had become a strong run for the Continent in the build up to The Open. Stops in France, Ireland and Scotland had all benefitted in recent years from geography and a relatively quiet portion of the Tour schedule, but that will change.
That run will now be followed by a World Golf Championship - did we mention it would be played in Memphis in late July? - and three consecutive playoff events starting in August.
The new Tour schedule may have made things better for the folks in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., but the work is just getting started for their counterparts on the European Tour.