A shorter ’13 season means larger fields

A shorter season on the PGA Tour in 2013 will mean slightly

larger fields for as many as nine tournaments.

It’s a move designed to help players who earn their cards

through Q-school or the Web.com Tour. They are at the bottom of the

priority rankings for getting into tournaments, and spots can be

rare in the early part of the season with smaller fields due to

limited daylight. If they didn’t qualify for the FedEx Cup

playoffs, they at least had four Fall Series tournaments to make up

ground to get into the top 125 and keep their cards.

But next year is all about transition. The PGA Tour season ends

with the Tour Championship, and after the three-tournament series

that effectively replaces Q-school, the new season (2013-14) will

start in October. The Fall Series will be the start of the new

year.

”You have four fewer tournaments, and that puts a strain on

playing opportunities,” said Andy Pazder, the tour’s chief of

operations.

The PGA Tour’s policy board is asking certain tournaments to

expand their fields for only 2013. Tournaments in March and April

typically have 144 players because of earlier sunsets. Some of them

are being asked to expand those fields to 156 players.

Pazder conceded that it puts the tournaments in a ”precarious

position” to make the cut on Friday. The pace is so slow at some

spots that they can’t make the cut by Friday even without expanding

the fields. Among those expected to be left alone are Riviera,

Honolulu and Pebble Beach, which recently reduced its field from

180 players to 156 players to improve pace of the pro-am

format.

The limited-field events are not off the hook. The Arnold Palmer

Invitational, AT&T National and Colonial are likely to go from

120 players to 132 players. Spared from the list is the Memorial,

run by Jack Nicklaus, which recently agreed to ramp up its field

from 105 players to 120 players.

That’s not the only boost for the Q-school and Web.com

graduates.

Tournaments typically have eight sponsor exemptions – two

designated for tour members not eligible (such as John Daly), two

for Q-school and Web.com graduates and four unrestricted. The

formula for next year will be only two unrestricted exemptions, and

four exemptions set aside for Q-school and Web.com grads. The tour

is also doing away with the commissioner’s exemption for foreign

players, which is not used very much, anyway.

In all, it should create close to 90 additional spots to help

alleviate not having four Fall Series events at the end of the

year.

RYDER CUP PUSH: The next two weeks will decide the eight

Americans who make the Ryder Cup team, and while there are plenty

of points at stake, those on the outside have their work cut out

for them.

Hunter Mahan occupies No. 8 in the standings, but he is $653,522

ahead of PGA champion Keegan Bradley in ninth place. The money (or

points) is double at the PGA Championship, the final week to earn

an automatic spot.

Bradley was left off the Presidents Cup team last year, even

though his two wins included a major.

”I really want this pretty bad, and that can be a negative,”

Bradley said. ”I know that if I have a decent last end of the

year, I’ll be on that team. But this U.S. team is one of the

strongest in recent history, I would say, with all major winners

coming from America, except the British Open.”

Indeed, six of the top eight have either won multiple times

(Tiger Woods, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Mahan) or won a major

worth double points (Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson). The others are

Matt Kuchar, who won The Players Championship, and Phil Mickelson,

who won Pebble Beach, lost in a playoff at Riviera and tied for

third at the Masters.

Missing from the top eight are some usual suspects – Dustin

Johnson at No. 12, Steve Stricker at No. 13 and Jim Furyk, who has

played on every U.S. team since making his debut in the 1997 Ryder

Cup. Even if Furyk were to win the World Golf Championship this

week with its $1.4 million payoff.

Rickie Fowler is at No. 10 and Brandt Snedeker is No. 11.

Snedeker lost about 160 points on the final hole of the British

Open when he made bogey, Woods made birdie and they tied for third.

If Snedeker had been in third place alone, he would be slightly

ahead of Fowler.

A year ago, Snedeker could have made the U.S. team for the

Presidents Cup by closing with a 1-over 72. He had a 74 in the BMW

Championship and missed out.

”This is a position I’m used to,” Snedeker said.

”Unfortunately, I’ve never been on the inside. I’ve been on the

outside looking in. I’ve got to play well, and if I don’t, I have

nobody to blame but myself.”

Davis Love III will announce Sept. 4 his four captain’s picks.

Just like making the team, it won’t be easy.

PGA FIELD: William McGirt was closer than ever to playing in his

first major championship.

In another example of how every shot counts, McGirt missed

getting into the PGA Championship by $11. The PGA of America went

down to No. 78 on its points list to fill the field of 156 players

for next week at Kiawah Island. The points list is based on PGA

Tour earnings from the Bridgestone Invitational last year through

the Canadian Open.

Jimmy Walker, who got the last spot, had $1,189,510. McGirt was

at No. 79 with $1,189,499.

McGirt tied for second in the Canadian Open; finishing in second

place alone (he made bogey on the last hole) or winning would have

sent him to Kiawah. Alas, all is not lost. McGirt is the first

alternate, and two spots are held open in case the winners of the

Reno-Tahoe Open or Bridgestone Invitational are not already

eligible for the PGA.

The PGA Championship fills out its field with special

invitations, which essentially is a way for it to get as many from

the top 100 in the world. But even those who fell out of the top

100 in the last few weeks were given exemptions – Michael Hoey of

Northern Ireland, Thomas Aiken of South Africa, and Robert Allenby.

The PGA of America went down to No. 108 – Thongchai Jaidee of

Thailand – for its invitations.

The PGA Championship has all of the top 108 players in the world

ranking.

DIVOTS: The seventh hole at Bethpage Black, which played as a

par 4 at 525 yards for the U.S. Open in 2009, will be returned to a

par 5 for The Barclays later this month. That received strong

approval from Phil Mickelson. ”I’ve always been a fan of the

original designer’s interests in how a golf hole is designed to

play from its inception, as opposed to somebody else who comes in

and tries to alter it for their own benefit or ego,” he said,

without mentioning names. … British Open champion Ernie Els has

already said he would return to the Frys.com Open at CordeValle,

part of the Fall Series. … He is friends with Hasso Plattner,

co-founder of SAP, who owns CordeValle. … Every winner of a PGA

Tour event that awards full FedEx Cup points has qualified for the

Bridgestone Invitational except for one – Ben Curtis, who lives 15

minutes from Firestone. Curtis won the Texas Open, which had the

weakest field of the year.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Brendan Steele, tied for the lead going into

the final round of the PGA Championship a year ago, is the fifth

alternate this year.

FINAL WORD: ”I had trouble getting the butterflies to fly in

formation.” – William McGirt, in the final group for the first

time on the PGA Tour at Canadian Open. He finished one shot

behind.