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LPGA to introduce $1million playoffs

The LPGA Tour is getting in on the postseason fun.

Counting on a creative new system and its $1 million first prize, the tour will have its own version of playoffs in 2006, culminating with players competing for the richest payoff in women's golf.

While plenty of work still needs to be done, commissioner Ty Votaw presented golf's first year-end playoff system comparable to others sports on Tuesday.

``Major League Baseball has the World Series and the drama that leads up to it,'' Votaw said. ``The NFL has the Super Bowl. NASCAR now has ... a points chase for the championship. ... College basketball has the Final Four. Now, the LPGA has the `LPGA Playoffs at The ADT.' ``

The 2006 season will be split into two parts, with players earning points toward making the 32-player field at the ADT Championship at Trump International, which previously served as a Tour Championship.

Fifteen players from each half of the season and two wild cards will advance to the playoffs. They will be playing for the $1 million prize, nearly double the biggest payoff in women's golf.

``For the first time, a group of players competing for a season-long championship has, at the end of that rainbow, a real bucket of gold, $1 million first-place check,'' Votaw, in his seventh and final year as commissioner, said Tuesday, two days before the start LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock.

The dramatic format change has received mixed reaction from players.

``It's a very interesting concept,'' Annika Sorenstam said. ``It's totally something everybody is talking about. Hopefully, something good will happen.''

Votaw said he was intrigued by NASCAR's success with its ``Chase for the Nextel Cup'' format, a season-long points competition that culminates with 10 playoff races.

``We looked to see how we could do something similar,'' Votaw said.

``What we were intrigued by ... was the amount of coverage, the amount of debate, the amount of back and forth, whether this was good or bad, and ultimately the results of increased television ratings, increased attendance.''

Hall of Famer Juli Inkster is outspoken in her opposition to the new playoff structure.

``I'm not for it at all,'' she said. ``It's got so many kinks in it, it looks like beat-up armor.

``Golf to me, it's who ends up on the fourth day is the winner. It's not NASCAR, it's golf.

``You win the ADT, it's like winning a major to me.''

Karrie Webb, one round away from securing her place in the Hall of Fame, understands the reasons for the change, but isn't enthusiastic.

``I understand that it is going to create a lot of interest, and that's great,'' Webb said. ``I appreciate why we have to do some of those things. But I just think it's sad that the game of golf can't be appreciated for the way it's played and how tough it is physically and mentally to play four rounds of a golf tournament.''

Votaw expects the new format to boost fan interest and bolster the tour's schedule, increasing the importance of each event.

``You'll hear debate as to whether this is a good or bad idea,'' Votaw said. ``We think that, ultimately, this will raise the profile, raise the bar for the LPGA, because it will bring a real exclamation point to our year in a dramatic way.

``We didn't talk to any of the other golf tours because we thought it was such a good idea, they would want to take it.''

Points will be awarded depending on the tournament:

-- Winners of the four majors automatically qualify for the playoffs, while points will be awarded to the top 10.

-- Limited-field events and certain full-field tournament winners will automatically qualify, although no other points will be awarded, setting up an all-or-nothing conclusion at those events.

-- Select full-field events will offer points through 10th place, although the winner won't get an automatic bid.

-- The players with the best performance in the Asian swing in the fall will qualify for the playoffs.

The announcement comes at a time when the PGA Tour is debating revamping its schedule for the next television contract, from 2007-10. While the men's tour is still contemplating a half-dozen models, the predominant theme is to put drama into the end of the season, giving it a conclusive finale like other sports have.

Now, golf might already have one with the LPGA Tour's new model.

``Even if you don't agree with it 100 percent, you've got to support it,'' said Cristie Kerr. ``If it's going to help our tour that much, it will be good for everybody.''

The LPGA also unveiled its new marketing initiative -- These Girls Rock -- designed to promote the players' great performances and personalities.


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