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PGA Tour looking to overhaul schedule

Four years ago, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem arrived at the Open Championship having just completed another four-year television deal that approached $1 billion.

He spent this Open in a series of meetings, and progress was said to be mixed.

Finchem is contemplating a massive overhaul of the PGA Tour schedule that would shorten the season and bring more attention to golf during the latter part of the year when it goes up against football. The tour might not be ready to present its final proposal to the networks until the final few months of the year, at the earliest.

According to four sources involved in the discussions, the model getting the most attention is a season that ends in September with the Tour Championship, coupled with a points race similar to NASCAR. The sources, said qualifying would take place through the PGA Championship, followed by a series of blockbuster tournaments to qualify for the Tour Championship.

Finchem was in meetings Monday afternoon and could not be reached for comment. Nothing has been decided, anyway, and he is sifting through as many as a half-dozen models.

But what emerged from a week in St. Andrews was major shifting of big tournaments, and perhaps the PGA Championship moving up one week in the schedule to early August to allow the tour time for its grand finale.

The sources, who are involved in discussions and spoke on condition of anonymity, said The Players Championship was virtually a lock to move from late March to May, and that it would be the week after the Wachovia Championship at Quail Hollow. The Tour Championship, held each year at East Lake in Atlanta, would come after the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston.

The sources said Finchem might try to move the WGC-American Express Championship -- typically played in September in either the United States or Europe -- to March to fill the Players' void, meaning it likely would be held in Florida. Another world event, the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, appeared headed from soggy La Costa Resort outside San Diego to Tucson, Ariz. starting in 2007.

There had been talk about starting the subsequent season in the fall after the Tour Championship, just like is done on the European Tour. But a management source and the tournament director said the tour has abandoned that idea.

Instead, the final month or so of the season could be broadcast by The Golf Channel, a niche cable outlet, which would mean smaller purses and weaker fields, but still allow lower-ranked players a chance to earn money without affecting the top of the money list.

Still to be determined is whether the PGA Tour can get involved with official events overseas, particularly in the booming markets of Asia.

And it could all change when the tour starts to inform the players of its plans in early September. But weeklong meetings at St. Andrews began to make it clear that the 2007 schedule won't look anything like it does now.

 

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