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PGA Tour looking to relauch season's end

The long golf season reaches the finish line this week with the Tour Championship, but the buzz surrounding the U.S. PGA Tour's finale is not what will happen on the East Lake course but what is taking place in the boardrooms.

Under pressure from advertisers to bolster faltering late-season television ratings and from players for a more compact schedule, Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is expected to address both concerns this week when he unveils a dramatic and long-debated overhaul of the U.S. PGA Tour calendar.

Much of the speculation has centred on the Tour championships moving from November to September in 2007 where it would provide a big-money climax to a late-summer points race designed to attract all the world's top players and add some badly needed excitement and lustre to the fading showcase event's prestige.

The shift would also allow the Tour championship to ride the huge momentum built up over the summer from three of golf's most popular events -- the U.S. and British Opens and the U.S. PGA Championship -- and at the same time escape the shadow of the NFL and college football which dominate the American sports scene in the fall.

"I think whatever the Tour is doing, I think they're doing it for the better of golf," said world number two Vijay Singh. "They were looking for a finale, to have the support in America at the finale. We don't.

"When the majors finish, we do have one or two big events, but football takes over the TV, and I think we just are in the background.

"This is going to bring the whole game of golf to a different level.

"All the top guys are going to be there towards the end of the year. I think this is going to do very well for the spectators and for the Tour itself."

The U.S. PGA is also said to be considering moving the Players Championship, widely considered golf's unofficial fifth major, from March to May, giving the sport a high-profile tournament every month from April until August.

It is also almost certain that the PGA will continue to stage tournaments after its Tour Championship.

Those events are likely to be dominated by the Tour's second tier of players as they look to finish in the top 125 on the money order to secure their cards for the following season.

The need to add some bite to the Tour Championship is reflected in the anti-climactic atmosphere surrounding this year's $6.5 million finale.

World number one Tiger Woods, who was supposedly consulted by Finchem on several occasions about the proposed changes, arrives at the East Lake Golf Club having claimed six titles, including the U.S. Masters and British Open along with a pair of WGC events and having locked up the money title.

Only the PGA Tour's top 30 earners received invitations to tee it up at East Lake, the home course of golf legend Bobby Jones. World number three Phil Mickelson will not be among them, the PGA champion having found little motivation to extend his season by one more week.

Slumping Singh, who has missed the cut at his last two events, and number four and defending champion Retief Goosen will be part of the marquee line-up in Georgia.

"You still know you're going to have to play like hell to win," said Goosen. "It's the best 29, 30 players of the year playing here this week.

"You have a few guys to worry about, but in general, you know you're going to have some tough competition out there.

"Winning this event, it's one of those dream events every player wants to win, this one, the one at Sawgrass, The Players, and then the majors.

"Those six events are the ones we all want to win, and then the world events come behind it, I think."

While the Tour Championship will hold the golf spotlight there is likely to be more drama found this week in Mississippi where many of the Tour's lesser names will be at the resurrected State Farm Bureau Classic for one last chance to pad their bank accounts and secure their cards for next season.

With only the top 125 on the U.S. PGA Tour money gaining exempt status for 2006, the competition at the $3 million event, postponed by Hurricane Katrina, is sure to be fierce.

American Briny Baird sits on the bubble, holding down the 125th spot heading into the weekend action, one place behind former world number one Nick Price and more importantly one up on Loren Roberts.

 

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