x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Big names staying home as PGA Tour’s wraparound season begins

The PGA Tour unveils a new season and revamped calendar this week, making Steve Elling wonder whether fans will embrace a wraparound season that starts with diluted fields.

Hideki Matsuyama, ranked No 30 in the world, will headline the PGA Tour season opener on Thursday. Andy Lyons / AFP
Hideki Matsuyama, ranked No 30 in the world, will headline the PGA Tour season opener on Thursday. Andy Lyons / AFP

Period between PGA season’s finish and restart was blink of an eye, writes Steve Elling

One of the PGA Tour’s major broadcast entities on Sunday will televise a highlights package that centres on the 2013 season, with segments on Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Adam Scott, among other breakout stars.

It is a half-week too late.

The 2013/14 season will have started three days earlier, at an event called the Frys.com Open, situated about an hour south of San Francisco, depending on traffic.

There will be zero traffic headed in that direction from the sport’s heavy hitters, which puts the tour back at square one in terms of its season-opening credibility.

The Fry’s event begins Thursday, which means the break between seasons lasted all of two weeks.

While the tour will take a six-week hiatus around the Christmas holidays, the period between the season’s official finish and reconstituted restart was the blink of an eye.

The top-ranked player in the field is world No 30 Hideki Matsuyama, a newly minted US tour member.

Have the palpitations begun?

After some harmonised grousing from stars such as Phil Mickelson and Woods that the season was too long – one of the rare times they have agreed on anything – the FedEx Cup series was conjured up six years ago, giving top players a reason to bail out of the season in September.

The autumn tournaments remained on the official schedule, but were positioned as marginalised events offering smaller purses, and broadcast on cable television.

Not much has changed, except that the season opener is even weaker.

Woods, for instance, is not expected to play an official event in the United States again until January and will chase appearance fees this autumn in China and Turkey. Thus, the six autumn US events, with the exception of the World Golf Championships event in China, still elicit all the goose bumps of a pre-season American football friendly.

For years, the US tour drew criticism for staging the weakest season-opener among American sports.

The field at Hawaii’s Tournament of Champions in early January is limited to players who won the previous season, though Mickelson and Woods rarely turned up.

Still, it looks like an all-star game compared to this week.

Convincing fans to wrap their arms around a wraparound restart? It is an even tougher opening-act ticket to sell.