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PGA Tour drops Q-school; season to start in October

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PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, saying it was “time to get better,” announced Tuesday sweeping changes that will end nearly 50 years of Q-school as a way to get to golf’s biggest tour.

The policy board on Tuesday approved two significant components to the overhaul — the PGA Tour season will start in October, and the developmental Nationwide Tour will be the primary path to get a PGA Tour card.

Cards would be awarded at a three-tournament series blending Nationwide Tour and PGA Tour players.

The board approved the concept, which has been talked about for several months.

What remains are the details — a lot of them.

“Any time you make a change, human nature is, ‘Why are we changing? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ There’s another way to look at things,” Finchem said. “When things are going pretty well, that’s the time to get better.”

But while the tour wants to make sure players are better equipped when they reach the PGA Tour, money is behind the change, too.

The tour wants to make the Nationwide Tour more appealing as it searches for a new title sponsor — this is the final year of sponsorship for the Ohio-based insurance company. Finchem said the tour is talking with several companies, though “close might not be the right word.”

By starting the official season in October — shortly after the FedEx Cup season ends — it allows the tour to give more value to the tournaments now part of the Fall Series. If they are not treated like other tournaments, odds are they would not renew their sponsorship, which would eliminate some $25 million in prize money.

Starting the season in October means that Q-school no longer can be an avenue to the PGA Tour. Instead, Q-school will award cards for only the Nationwide Tour.

Finchem offered only a skeleton of the plan:

» After the FedEx Cup regular season ends in August 2013, the tour will take the top 75 players from the Nationwide Tour money list, along with the players who finished No. 126 through 200 on the PGA Tour money list, and have them play three tournaments. The top 50 will receive PGA Tour cards for the following season.

The biggest problem for the board is blending two very different tours. Finchem said his staff has discussed seeding the players in such a way that the top 25 from the Nationwide Tour are assured of being among the top 50. The only thing that would suffer if they played badly in the three-tournament series is their ranking for the next season.

For the last several years, the top 25 players from the Nationwide Tour received tour cards. Another 25 cards or so were handed out at Q-school, which often produced a few heartwarming stories of a long shot who achieved his dream of reaching the tour.

Finchem said research shows that players who spent a year on the Nationwide Tour are more equipped for the rigors of travel than someone who gets hot for six rounds and gets a card.

The change in earning cards begins in 2013. That means the 50 players who earn their cards will only have eight months to finish among the top 125 on the PGA Tour, instead of having six extra events in the fall to make up ground.

» The fall events will be the start of the new season in October 2013. Still to be determined is whether those tournaments will offer the same number of FedEx Cup points as tournaments held from January until the FedEx Cup playoffs begin in August.

Not awarding similar points could be a problem.

Unless it’s moved to October, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Maui, which has served as the season opener in January, will no longer be the first event of the tour season.

Tiger’s Achilles’ OK

Tiger Woods made it through two days of a golf exhibition without any trouble with his left Achilles’ tendon.

Woods withdrew from the final round at Doral on March 11 with tightness in his left Achilles’ tendon, the same one that forced him to miss two majors last year.

If he makes the cut this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, it will be seven straight days of golf in his final competition before the Masters.

In the Tavistock Cup, a two-day exhibition among four private golf clubs, Woods shot an even-par 72.

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