Inside the Ropes: Wraparound kickoff will lack star power

Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Commissioner Tim Finchem pilots the PGA Tour into uncharted waters this week when the 2013-14 season begins with the Open at CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, Calif.
The start to the new campaign comes only three weeks after the final putt dropped in the Tour Championship, the official end of the 2013 season, creating what is being called a wraparound schedule.
The Frys will be followed in successive weeks by the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island, Ga., and the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico.
After a break of about a month and a half, the new year begins in January with the winners-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, which was the traditional opener for years, whether it was played in Hawaii, California or Las Vegas.
"We have an exceptionally strong schedule as we transition to the new season structure," said Andy Pazder, chief of operations for the PGA TOUR. "The season has a solid and interesting start with three domestic and three international tournaments, providing players with a great opportunity to get a jump in the FedEx Cup standings.
"The schedule then resumes in January with the traditional swing through Hawaii before moving to the West Coast. We are very pleased with the flow and stability of the new schedule."
The general consensus is that the PGA Tour made the move to keep the title sponsors of the events in what was called the Fall Series from taking their money elsewhere.
The six early tournaments will offer full FedEx Cup points, and the winners will earn berths in the Masters and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
The million-dollar question is how strong will the fields be.
Ernie Els played in the Open the last two years as a favor to his friend, Hasso Plattner, owner of the San Jose Sharks and CordeValle Golf Club, but the Big Easy is not in the field this year.
Top players in the field this week are major champions Trevor Immelman, Angel Cabrera, Stewart Cink, Retief Goosen, Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, Vijay Singh and Mike Weir.
Els and most of the top international players are returning to the European Tour for the stretch run of the Race to Dubai, which will end next month with the DP World Tour Championship-Dubai. That rules out the likes of Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter.
Don't expect to see Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson in the official domestic events this fall. Woods and Mickelson, like Els, played in the Presidents Cup last week.
Mickelson committed to the CIMB Classic. Also in the field for the tournament in Kuala Lumpur are Brandt Snedeker, Keegan Bradley, Nick Watney, Rickie Fowler, Bo Van Pelt, Ben Crane and Hideki Matsuyama, the budding Japanese star.
Mickelson also plans to play the WGC-HSBC Champions at Shanghai, but Woods was not committed to that tournament even though he will be at Mission Hills Golf Club in Haikou, China, at the beginning of the week to play in a one-on-one match with McIlroy for the second consecutive year.
The WGC-HSBC Champions also will have defending champion Poulter and many of the top European Tour players, including McIlroy, Donald, McDowell, Rose and Stenson because it is the second event of the Final Series in the Race to Dubai.
PGA champion Jason Dufner also is committed to the HSBC after finishing second to Poulter in China last year.
However, the four official events in the United States before the end of 2013 probably will have much the same feel they did when they were part of the Fall Series, which was created in 2007 after the PGA Tour went to the FedEx Cup playoff format.
Love and Zach Johnson will play in the McGladrey Classic because they live near the course in Sea Island, Ga., and are involved in promotion the tournament.
However, expect for this year anyway that most of the fields will consist of second-tier players trying to jump-start their 2014 seasons before the big boys come back early next year on the West Coast Swing.
In fact, the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in December that Woods hosts at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation, will feature more big names even though it has only an 18-man field.
That figures to be the rap on the wraparound schedule.

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