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PGA Tour prize fund rises to $180m in 2001

Prize money on the PGA Tour will go up to a record $180 million in 2001, with an even larger increase anticipated when the tour negotiates a new four–year television contract in the spring.

Just as importantly, commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday he's confident the tour can work out marketing issues with the player largely responsible for those rising purses– Tiger Woods.

"We don't have issues that can't be resolved," Finchem said during a teleconference to discuss the state of the tour. "His business strategy is not inconsistent with ours. We'll work very closely together. That's very much in the interest of the tour."

Last month, Woods criticised the tour over the marketing rights to his image and Internet issues. He and Finchem met two weeks ago in Los Angeles, a meeting which both described as positive without discussing details.

Finchem again declined to discuss specifics Wednesday, instead focusing on one of the most memorable years in golf and what can be expected in the years to come.

One possibility? The Players Championship moving from March to May in 2003.

The only significant change for 2001 is the prize money, roughly a 10 percent increase in which nearly 20 official events could have at least a $4 million purse. Finchem also hinted that the World Golf Championships could increase their purses, currently at $5 million.

Woods earned just over $9.1 million in an amazing year – nine victories, completing the career Grand Slam and the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three straight majors. He won more money than Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus combined in their careers.

A record 15 players made over $2 million, and 45 players earned at least $1 million.

But in light of shortstop Alex Rodriguez signing a 10–year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers and other baseball signings this week, Finchem said, "We still have an awfully long way to go."

It should get a boost from the next TV contract.

Purses increased more than 30 percent after the last contract, which was negotiated in 1997, right after Woods' watershed victory in the Masters. Woods now has become one of the most popular athletes in the world, and TV ratings double whenever he is in contention.

The tour will spend the first part of the year organizing the schedule of tournaments to prepare for the TV negotiations, which will affect years 2003–06.

That includes a 40 percent chance of a move of The Players Championship, Finchem said.

The Players Championship, which has the richest purse along with the strongest and deepest field in golf, has traditionally been played at Sawgrass the last weekend in March, going against college basketball's Final Four.

It also comes just two weeks before the Masters, the first major of the year.

"It would be a fairly substantial move," Finchem said. "There are plusses and minuses either way. It's worked so well in March, but we're always intrigued."

One possibility is to move the Match Play Championship to south Florida in early March, but Finchem said that was not being considered at the time.

Other dates to be resolved include the Canadian Open, which has asked the tour for a summer slot in the schedule when the new TV deal begins so it can move its tournament to different parts of the country.

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