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Senior PGA Tour to expand more in 2000

New players, new courses, new money. Almost everything about the Senior PGA Tour will change in the next few years, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem says.

Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Lanny Wadkins and Andy North all are expected to play on the senior circuit next season.

The season-ending Senior Tour Championship will debut at the new TPC of Myrtle Beach and total purses will rise about 10 percent to $53 million from this season's $49 million.

New television agreements expected to start in 2001 also might blend Internet connections that could have you swinging in cyberspace against Hale Irwin or Bruce Fleisher.

"I can't think of anything else off the top of my head," Finchem said Sunday during the Senior Tour Championship's final round. "We are pleased with the progress we are making."

The tour started 20 years ago as a way to bring some old favorites together for a few laughs. But while players like Lee Trevino and Chi Rodriguez kept the crowds in stitches with their flamboyance and style, other qualifiers like Jay Sigel, Jim Albus, Tom Wargo and Fleisher, this year's money champ with about $2.5 million, saw the tour as a second chance to join golf's elite.

Competition rose and showmanship fell.

"I think what you'll see is a tour in transition," said Gary McCord, CBS Sports' off-center analyst who won the Senior Tour Championship on Sunday. "It was set up beautifully because you got some very, very good personalities coming out selling this tour."

No one out there is like Trevino and Rodriguez, neither of whom was at this week's season-ending event, McCord said. "You're going to see a lot better players coming out here, but obviously not the personalities," he said.

Finchem doesn't mind. The star power that sells the PGA Tour will kick in with the 50-and-over crowd, especially as waves of popular golfers play full-time. Fuzzy Zoeller and Bruce Leitzke head the class of 2001. Ben Crenshaw becomes eligible in 2002.

Gone, McCord said, are seasons where two players, like Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan since 1997, can choke off rivals.

Larry Nelson has seen competition improve since he joined the tour in 1997. "You can't look to one guy to run away with it every week," he said. "It's going to be five, six or eight guys that are going to have a chance to win every Sunday."

Even Irwin, who turns 55 next season, might not keep up his incredible pace. He was the circuit's leading money winner, totaling more than $5.2 million in 1997 and 1998. But the fatigue of grinding the same way at 54 as he did at 34 wore him out this year, he said.

He still won five tournaments and better than $2 million, but players like Fleisher and Allen Doyle charged past him in several cases and now he has cut his schedule some this winter and next year.

"Considering the successes of the last three years, I need to break away from it," he said.

Galleries still love personality, as McCord proved this weekend. He joked his way through his second senior victory and had probably the biggest and loudest fan following.

But he doesn't think of himself as the circuit's newest cutup. "I'm not the answer to any puzzle, OK?" he says. "I'll do anything I can to help. But I'm not the answer."