PGA adding intrigue

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

The PGA Tour's season-ending piece de resistance, The Tour Championship, is being played this week in Atlanta.

But, of course, as a fan of golf you already knew that. Right?

No? Well, therein lies the problem for the Tour. Nobody forgets when the Super Bowl is. Or the World Series. Or the Stanley Cup finals.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is to deliver his annual state of the game address this morning, on the eve of The Tour Championship and he's expected to unveil the framework for a shorter, revamped schedule designed to create a golf season that builds all year to a big September finish.

In the process, the Canadian Open will almost certainly get a new mid-summer date and that could be a big boost after too many years as a September afterthought.

Finchem's plan -- and he says it's far from a finished product just now -- is to create a season-long points race with an accelerated finish once the four major championships have been completed.

In the past, once the PGA Championship is in the books, there is very little left of interest, beyond a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup. Seldom, even, is there any drama in the Player of the Year race.

Under the new format, three big-money blockbuster playoff tournaments will lead up to a Tour Championship which will be held in mid-September. The winner of the "playoffs" will take home a $10-million bonus.

According to the Associated Press, those three playoff tournaments will be the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston, the Barclays Classic in New York and the Western Open in Chicago, to be played on consecutive weekends beginning the week before Labour Day.

That's significant for the Canadian Open in two ways. First, it would have to relinquish its current time slot during the second week of September, which it would do happily because that post-Labour Day booking always has been a millstone around the neck of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.

Second, it just so happens that the Western Open currently occupies the time slot the RCGA most covets for itself. For decades, the Western Open has been played in the first week of July. When he was asked about his "dream" time slot, Bell Canadian Open tournament director Bill Paul said he would love to be in the first week of July, hopefully encompassing Canada Day.

Whether Finchem will reward the Canadian Open with that date is quite another thing. No doubt, in the upheaval that this new schedule will create, there will be many, many tournaments and sponsors lobbying the commissioner for consideration. There will be some winners and some losers among the current tournaments and the Bell Canadian Open just hopes it won't be one of the losers.

"There have been discussions," said RCGA communications director Anthony Alfred, "but nothing has been finalized."

The overall effect of the new plan is to create more attention for the sport. As an aside, the Tournament Players Championship, the so-called fifth major, currently held in late March, will move to a May slot, so that there will be major tournaments in each of April (Masters), May (TPC), June (US Open), July (British Open) and August (PGA Championship).

The points race will begin right at the start of the year with the Mercedes Championship in Hawaii. It is believed that players will accumulate points all spring and summer, establishing position right through the PGA Championship. At that point players will be seeded according to the points they've won, then head into the "playoff" tournaments for the really big money.

Armed with this new format and its razzle-dazzle finish, plus a schedule that promises to keep the game's biggest names interested right to the end, Finchem is about to go into negotiations with the TV networks to try to hammer out a new contract that will at least match the $1-billion deal that expires at the end of next season.

And when the whole plan is in place, maybe somebody will be able to remember when The Tour Championship is played.


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