Change on the links

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is no dummy.

He has known for some time that it was necessary to take some drastic action to reinvent the PGA Tour to make it more appealing to fans, sponsors and, most importantly, TV networks.

He also has known that, without Tiger Woods' blessing, whatever plan he came up with was doomed to failure.

Suffice to say, the phone line between Finchem's Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., office and Woods' Orlando home has been humming these past few months.

And judging by his reaction yesterday in Atlanta, after Finchem unveiled the bare bones of the master plan that will revamp the tour schedule starting in 2007, Woods is entirely on side.

At the heart of Finchem's presentation yesterday was the announcement that Federal Express will be the title sponsor for a season-ending series of playoff tournaments leading up to a mid-September Tour Championship, the awarding of the FedEx Cup and the presentation to the winning player of a cheque for $10 million US.

"The bonus payout at the end of the day associated with the Cup we will announce in more detail next year but, suffice to say, it will probably be the largest payout in competitive sports for a playoff type of situation," Finchem said.

From the start of the season in January, starting in 2007, players will be awarded performance points at the end of each tournament.

The top 144 point-getters at the end of the PGA Championship in mid August will then be seeded for the playoff series. The top 30 survivors after the three-tournament playoff will go after the monster prize at the Tour Championship.

"I certainly gave my opinion quite a bit," Woods said. "The commissioner and I, we have a nice relationship where we can pick up the phone and talk to each other. Open communication like that is always a key. It ha been going back and forth like that for quite a while."

The three playoff tournaments leading up to the Tour Championship will feature playoff tournaments worth up to $8 million in purse money. It's believed the three events will be played in Boston, New York and Chicago, obviously targeting the biggest markets in the United States.

It's all about golf getting its elbows out and grabbing some attention at a time of the year when golf is largely a dead issue.

"Without a doubt," Woods said. "I think we have no interest, basically, after the PGA (Championship). Our season hits kind of a low period and we try to pick it up here (Tour Championship) this week but it has gone through such a long lull and there are so many other things going on ... NBA starting, football is in mid-season, hockey, so many sports in the middle of their seasons and here we are trying to get some TV time and it's just not working out."

Hence the need for change. And this kind of high-profile, big-bucks change will ensure that the very best players, the ones who drive attendance and TV ratings, will be front and centre. It will be a rather dramatic departure for the big stars who tend to retreat from the public eye after the PGA Championship.

'THAT'S A LOT OF GOLF'

"It's going to be a lot at the end of the year, six out of seven events, then a week off and then probably a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup," Woods said. "That's a lot of golf but after that, you're pretty much done, which is great because our schedule goes on too long."

Woods wasn't the only key person consulted along the way. Finchem cosied up to as many TV executives as he could find, sounding them out on various angles that would appeal to them.

"They like it," Finchem said. "It's something that they're interested in."

As something of an afterthought to the big finale, there will be a half-dozen additional tournaments after the Tour Championship that will be called The Quest for the Card Fall Series, allowing the also-rans a chance to accumulate money toward maintaining their playing privileges, much the same as they do now.

And one other thing hasn't changed. The FedEx Cup may carry a lot of weight and money, but it won't hold a candle to Woods's perennial goal.

"If I could just win four tournaments a year," he said. "Four majors. Four."


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