Tuesday, November 06, 2007

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida (AP) — Rich Beem holed out with a wedge for an eagle 2 in the second round at Disney and settled for a mere birdie in the third round. As he walked to the 14th tee, he turned and quickly flashed 2-3 with his fingers.

It only seemed obvious what he meant.

"Oh, that's not my scores," Beem said. "That's how many holes are left until I'm done."

At that point, he had 23 holes remaining in his year and couldn't finish soon enough.

What was supposed to be a short season for some turned into a long season for most, those who wound up playing as many as seven times after the "season-ending" U.S. Tour Championship to keep their cards, get into the Masters, earn endorsement bonuses or, in the case of Mark Calcavecchia, because they had nothing better to do.

It was the biggest overhaul of the U.S. PGA Tour schedule in 20 years, and what happened?

Tiger Woods was as dominant as ever, winning seven times, getting another major, sweeping all the major awards and signing two big endorsement contracts.

The major champions beside Woods were Zach Johnson (Masters), Angel Cabrera (U.S. Open), the first Southern American winner in 40 years, and Padraig Harrington (British Open), the first European winner in eight years.

A dozen players won on the U.S. PGA Tour for the first time, ranging from established international players (Cabrera, Henrik Stenson) to former assistant club pros (George McNeill), to chemical plant hydroblasters (Boo Weekley).

The Americans won the Presidents Cup, renewing old questions about why they can't play that way in the Ryder Cup.

The top 10 players in the world at the end of the 2006 season combined to play seven more U.S. PGA Tour events in 2007.

And the FedEx Cup still hasn't been kissed.

It does have a champion, of course, with Woods winning the BMW Championship and the U.S. Tour Championship to wrap up a resounding playoff performance that showed everyone what they already knew: This guy is really good.

The FedEx Cup probably should be a nominee for comeback of the year.

It was ridiculed at the start of the season for a couple of reasons. Most players either didn't understand or chose not to study the points system, and even if it did make sense, it was a sharp departure from decades of measuring success by money.

The U.S. PGA Tour's hype was endless, perhaps the most inane coming at the Match Play Championship when runner-up Geoff Ogilvy was consoled by the fact that he had earned 2,835 points.

"That's exciting," Ogilvy deadpanned.

Still, it delivered interest after the final major, which is as rare in U.S. golf as a double eagle.

It also delivered the kind of head-to-head battles the pairings computer never seems to spit out - Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh for two days at The Barclays, followed by two days of Mickelson, Singh and Woods at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

The U.S. Tour Championship turned into a snoozer, but that's like saying the U.S. Open is dull when Woods wins by 15 shots. Some things are out of anyone's control.

Tour officials are busy running hundreds of models to tweak the points system, putting particular emphasis on players' concerns the four playoff events were not volatile enough. In other words, they want more guys to have a chance, but it's a tough balancing act keeping the regular season meaningful.

No, it wasn't perfect, but how bad can it be when the biggest gripe is whether the $35 million (24 million) bonus money is paid up front or deferred?

"Nothing works exactly right the first year, especially when you're talking about a model that's been around for what, almost 80 years?" Woody Austin said. "But it did what it was supposed to do. You always keep tweaking until you get it right."

The regular season didn't need a FedEx Cup to be meaningful.

Paul Goydos won for the first time in 11 years at the Sony Open. In the first Byron Nelson Championship without its namesake greeting players on the first tee, Scott Verplank delivered an emotional victory. Nelson first took an interest in Verplank when he was 16, and few players on tour had a stronger relationship with Lord Byron.

Jim Furyk honored his commitment as defending champion of the Canadian Open - even though it meant playing eight out of nine tournaments through the U.S. Tour Championship - and became the first back-to-back winner in more than 50 years.

When the FedEx Cup ended, another season started called the Fall Series.

"What's going on here? You've got the regular season, the playoff season and now what, the third season?" said Fred Couples, counting his days until the silly season begins.

The Fall Series featured fields so weak that Disney was the third-strongest tournament in the world behind the European Tour and the Asian Tour. Yet the series produced winners like Steve Flesch, Chad Campbell, Justin Leonard, Mike Weir and Stephen Ames, who have combined for 29 career victories, two majors and two U.S. Players Championships.

Yes, they lost prestige coming after the FedEx Cup, but that's to suggest they were prestigious before the FedEx Cup was created.

"There always has been a Fall Series," McNeill said. "It just ended up with the Tour Championship."

It's the first full week of November, and the U.S. PGA Tour season is over.

Just like last year.

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