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September 18, 2019
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It’s Opening Day on the PGA Tour … no, really, a new season is starting

It's Opening Day on the PGA Tour ... no, really, a new season is starting
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The offseason is finally finished. PGA Tour golf is back. A grand total of 18 days will have passed since Rory McIlroy earned his $15 million payday for capturing the FedEx Cup and the start of the new season on Thursday at the Greenbrier in West Virginia.

The offseason is but a fleeting idea in professional golf, but this break is actually longer than most of them have been since the Tour went to its wraparound schedule in the fall of 2013.

There may be more time from finish to start, but that doesn’t mean there are fewer tournaments or that the schedule will not be just as crammed as it was last season. There are 49 tournaments, which doesn’t include the Presidents Cup in December and the Olympics next August.

And with 11 tournaments (one opposite-field event) over the next 11 weeks, the days of skipping the fall events are fleeting for most players, including Tiger Woods, who will make his first-ever fall start in an official PGA Tour event since the wraparound system began.

Here’s a closer look at the fall schedule and upcoming 2019-20 season in general.

The opener

A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier is back and is the first of 11 tournaments that will conclude with the RSM Classic at Sea Island that will be played the week prior to Thanksgiving. The Greenbrier, which was last played in July 2018, has moved from its former date to kick off the new season, with Bryson DeChambeau at No. 11 as the highest-ranked player in the field.

It is a chance for veterans such as Zach Johnson and Bill Haas — who did not make the FedEx Cup playoffs — to get off to a fast start, as well as an opportunity for PGA Tour rookies who just earned their cards such as Viktor Hovland, Maverick McNealy, Scottie Sheffler and Doug Ghim.

Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Jimmy Walker and Kevin Na are also entered.

The trail

The fall events do not exactly follow any sensible geographic plot. After the Greenbrier event in West Virginia, the Tour moves to Jackson, Mississippi, for the Sanderson Farms Championship (Sept. 19-22).

Then it’s out West to Napa, California, for the Safeway Open (Sept. 26-29), followed by the Shriners for Hospitals for Children Open (Oct. 3-6) in Las Vegas and then the Houston Open (Oct. 10-13). After being off the schedule this past season, the Houston Open returns to Golf Club of Houston. This tournament used to precede the Masters.

From there, the tour heads overseas for its Asian Swing of tournaments in South Korea (CJ Cup, Oct. 17-20), Japan (Zozo Championship, Oct. 24-27) and China (WGC-HSBC Championships, Oct. 31-Nov. 3). That same week is an opposite-field event, a new tournament called the Bermuda Championship.

After an off week, the tour plays its final official events of the fall at the Mayakoba Classic (Nov. 14-17) near Cancun, Mexico, and the RSM Classic (Nov. 21-24) in Sea Island, Georgia.

The promotion

The Sanderson Farms Championship is now a standalone tournament awarding 500 points (and a Masters invitation) to the winner. It had previously been played opposite the WGC event in China. The Bermuda tournament steps into that role.

The off week

The idea of skipping a week once the schedule gets started is rare, but the Tour originally had planned to have an event in the San Francisco Bay Area hosted by NBA star Steph Curry a week before or after the Safeway Open. That fell apart due to sponsorship and venue issues, hence the Tour juggled the schedule as it left one week open.

The Tiger plan

Soon after the Masters, Woods committed to the Zozo Championship, a new event on the PGA Tour schedule and first-ever official event in Japan. It replaces a previous tournament that had been played in Malaysia, the CIMB Classic.

As part of the trip to Japan, Woods will partake in a one-day skins game that includes Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama on Oct. 21. Specifics of the event have yet to be announced.

This is the first time that Woods will compete in an official fall PGA Tour event since the tour went to its wraparound schedule in 2013.

The last time Woods played a fall event was at the 2012 CIMB Classic in Malaysia, which at the time was unofficial; Woods tied for fourth. A year earlier, he played the Frys.com Open and tied for 30th. (Woods played the Turkish Airlines Open on the European Tour in the fall of 2013 and tied for third.)

The FedEx Cup influence

Six of the eight winners in the fall events last year made the 30-man Tour Championship field, which gives an indication of how important these tournaments have become. Or, another way to look at it: This past season, it took 376 points to make the top 125 and qualify for the first FedEx Cup playoff event, and more than 30 players had made it to that number through the RSM Classic.

The increase from eight to 11 tournaments will only heighten the importance of getting started early. Waiting until January means that approximately one-fourth of the season will already be completed. And by the time the Masters rolls around in April, half the season will have been contested.

The Presidents Cup

For the third time, the Presidents Cup will be played at Royal Melbourne in Australia — the site of the only U.S. defeat in the competition, back in 1998. The event is Dec. 12-15, three weeks after the last official PGA Tour event and also a week after the Hero World Challenge, Woods’ annual foundation tournament in the Bahamas. While Woods expects several members of his team to join him in the Bahamas, a good number of international team players are likely to compete that same week at the Australian Open in Sydney, including Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Jason Day (who needs a captain’s pick), Cameron Smith, Louis Oosthuizen and defending champion Abraham Ancer. International captain Ernie Els is going to play the Aussie Open, and Hideki Matsuyama — who has won the Hero in the past — is said to be leaning toward playing in Australia as well.

The at-large picks will be made the week of Nov. 4, and Woods has some tough calls to make, including one on himself. Woods, despite playing just 12 times this year, finished 13th in points, but was largely ineffective after his Masters victory. Ahead of him on the points list are U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler. Kevin Kisner, who won the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship earlier this year and went 2-0-1 in his lone Presidents Cup appearance in 2017, is another candidate.

This is a tricky situation for Woods, who undoubtedly will feel pressure — stated or otherwise — to pick himself, but would also be leaving a potentially worthy candidate at home.

After a lackluster end to the season and a minor knee procedure in late August, it seems obvious that Woods will need to have a good tournament in Japan in order to justify picking himself.

The changes

One change will be noticed immediately as the 36-hole cut has been reduced for 2019-20 from the top 70 players and ties to the top 65 and ties. Also, there will no longer be a second cut after 54 holes if the cut number exceeds 78 players.

Opposite-field events will see field sizes reduced from 132 to 120 players, with the first occasion occurring at the Bermuda Championship.

The field size is also being reduced at the Genesis Invitational, the tournament that benefits Woods’ foundation, to 120 players from 144, bringing in it in line with the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial.

The rest of the schedule

After a break to end the year, the 2019-20 schedule resumes in Hawaii with the Sentry Tournament of Champions, with the same order of tournaments as last season through the Masters (April 9-12), including two World Golf Championship events and the Players in a six-week span leading up to the first major championship.

The PGA Championship (May 14-17) is five weeks after the Masters and will be played at Harding Park in San Francisco. The Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit is moving to before the U.S. Open, after the Charles Schwab Challenge and before the Memorial.

The WGC-FedEx St. Jude moves from following The Open to two weeks after the U.S. Open (June 18-21) at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York, and two weeks prior to The Open (July 16-19) at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England. The 3M Championship in Minneapolis is moving to the week following The Open.

The Olympic Golf men’s tournament (July 30-Aug. 2) is the following week, prior to the regular-season-ending Wyndham Championship. Unlike 2016, there will be no tournament played the same week as the Olympics.

The FedEx Cup begins four weeks after The Open, two weeks after The Olympics, with the Northern Trust in TPC Boston (Aug. 13-16), followed by the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields, Illinois (Aug. 20-23), and the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta (Aug. 27-30).

http://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/27584722/opening-day-pga-tour-no-really-new-season-starting

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