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Silly Season starts in earnest

Officially, it's the PGA Tour's Challenge Season. Unofficially, fans still call it the postseason or the Silly Season.

Whatever it's called, the top men golfers in the world are about to embark on the strange time when earnings no longer count toward the official money list or the format is no longer 72 holes of stroke play over four days. It's two months of limited fields, funky formats and chances for players to loosen up a bit and look a little less robotic on the fairway.

The Silly Season will include a few familiar events, including the granddaddy of the postseason craze. The 22nd annual Skins Game, this year sponsored by Merrill Lynch, will be played for the second consecutive year at Trilogy Golf Club in La Quinta. Annika Sorenstam, Tiger Woods, Fred Couples and Adam Scott make up the foursome playing for $1 million.

Other familiar events are the Franklin Templeton Shootout, the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge, the PGA Grand Slam of Golf and the Woods-hosted Target World Challenge.

The Challenge Season does have two additions this year. A $4 million limited-field event in Korea over Thanksgiving weekend will debut this month. The Tommy Bahamas Challenge, a sort of one-day Ryder Cup for the young guns of American and international golf,will be played Jan. 1 for anyone interested in watching something other than college football.

But if none of this counts toward money titles or player of the year honors, and if no one can really remember who won last year's Franklin Templeton event (it was the team of Jeff Sluman and Hank Kuehne), why do these events remain popular with television viewers?

The answer appears to be in two postseason hallmarks -- star power and formats -- that aren't like every other PGA Tour event played in the last 10 months.

The Skins Game may not garner the same kind of ratings it had when names such as Palmer, Nicklaus and Trevino played in the event. But what golf fan wouldn't be interested in seeing Woods and Sorenstam play against each other for the first time? Marquee names tend to bring marquee television ratings.

The other change is the formats. Match play, co-ed play, team play of every size and shape dominate the Silly Season landscape. You might not want to see that kind of format every week, but it's appealing as a breather from the long march of the usual stroke-play events.

So enjoy the Silly Season for two months. Soon enough, the real world of official events and stroke-play events will be back.

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