Change a good thing for PGA

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

Golf's so-called Big Four are together again this week for the second week in a row, at the Byron Nelson Classic.

A rare sight indeed.

Lord Byron's annual tournament in Dallas has plenty more than Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.

Dig deeper and you'll find the No. 5- and No. 6-ranked players, Retief Goosen and Chris DiMarco, and a whole lot more.

NEW PLANS

This is the kind of star-studded field that PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem had in mind when he talked about his far-reaching plans for the tour in March.

The very fact Finchem was mulling his options in public tells you he is testing the waters for a major shakeup in how professional golf is presented as entertainment in the future.

Many of the big names already mentioned have expressed a desire to shorten the tour schedule so it could present stronger fields (i.e. bigger TV audiences) on a weekly basis.

In this way, less would be more.

"It would be more exciting for the fans, sponsors, TV, everybody, if we did play more often together," Woods said at the Ford Championship this winter.

"The only way we can do that is to shorten the season, which is something I've really been trying to get into Finchem's ear about."

Apparently, Finchem is paying attention to his meal ticket. Which is wise because as Tiger goes, so goes the tour.

Any plan Finchem comes up with will be in response to flat TV ratings and with an eye to negotiations on a new TV contract, to take effect in 2007, that will begin this winter.

As it stands, any tournaments after Labour Day are dead weight on the TV schedule because the Sunday spotlight is dominated by the National Football League.

One of Finchem's options involves situating The Tour Championship, the season-ending event which has been a ratings disaster the past few years, on or about Labour Day weekend.

That would have major ramifications for the Bell Canadian Open and its 100-year heritage.

The Canadian Open has traditionally occupied the first weekend after Labour Day but has been seeking a mid-summer slot. Its arguments have accomplished nothing in this regard. In a revised schedule, there would be even more competition for those valuable June, July and August dates.

Finchem's post-August vision calls for a restart of the tour schedule so that lesser players can continue their quest to get into the top 125 money-earners, thus ensuring playing privileges for the next year. In one of Finchem's scenarios, money won during that segment might count toward the next year's money title.

"I have about seven different models that involve how we might handle the end of the season," Finchem said.

"One of the many things we're looking at is how to end the season in a more compelling way."

It is believed that the networks who paid almost $1 billion US for the most recent four-year TV package are going to lose money. That is in part because of Woods' lack of dominance coupled with his short schedule over the past couple of seasons.

When Tiger doesn't play, the ratings always suffer.

Even this season, which is shaping up to be one of the most compelling from a competitive standpoint, has failed to hit the mark in a big way with TV viewers.

Finchem's mandate, it should be remembered, is to be the commissioner of all the players, not just Tiger Woods and his well-known rivals.

There are hundreds of other players who would be affected by a shorter season, not to mention lesser tournaments that might fall by the wayside.

REDUCED BY EIGHT

At the end of this tournament bloodbath, the tour schedule could be reduced by as many as eight tournaments, allowing Finchem to present a streamlined package of events for the TV executives to consider.

It's not all that different from the constant pleas from hockey fans that a 20-team NHL would be much more desirable than the current 30-team league with the talent spread so thinly.

The bottom line for both the tour and for TV is that for the game to thrive economically, it needs more fields like the one that will be at the Nelson this week.


Videos

Photos