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Playing opportunities drop in wraparound season, PGA wants more time to see if change needed

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Jordan Spieth hits off the third tee during the second round of the Deutsche Bank Championship golf tournament in Norton, Mass., Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

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Jordan Spieth hits off the third tee during the second round of the Deutsche Bank Championship golf tournament in Norton, Mass., Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

NEW YORK, N.Y. - PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is not inclined to make drastic changes next year that would create more starts for players who earn their cards through the Web.Com Tour Finals.

Last year was the first time 50 players earned their cards through the four-tournament series. That replaced the old system of 25 players from the Tour money list and the top 25 players and ties from Q-school.

The concern was that some players who were low on the priority ranking did not get to play enough tournaments.

An internal document at the tour shows that players from No. 30 and lower on the list wound up playing about five fewer tournaments than the old system. The comparison was with 2012, because 2013 was a short season to prepare for the new wraparound schedule.

"One of the things we're concerned about is if a player who comes out at the bottom of the list off the, in some cases it's a player who since he was 8 years old wanted to be on the PGA Tour," Finchem said at The Barclays. "You want that player to have a reasonable number of tournaments to be able to have a fair test."

Some examples from the tour's research:

— The player at No. 10 on the priority list had 28 opportunities in open events in 2012, compared with 23 times last season.

— The player at No. 30 went from 23 opportunities in 2012 to 18.

— The last player on the priority list went from 19 opportunities in open events two years ago to only 13 last year.

The biggest problem was the tour didn't anticipate so many veterans competing in the fall, which filled up the fields and made it difficult for the newcomers off the priority list to get into tournaments.

Here are a few other comparisons:

— Of the 50 players who earned cards through the Tour Finals, 16 qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs. The previous year, 18 players qualified for the playoffs from the 48 players who earned cards either through the money list or the old Q-school.

— The top half of those 50 players on the priority list averaged 22.4 tournaments, compared with 18.1 tournaments by the lower half.

Another problem was the high number of major medical extensions that Finchem granted. Players on a major medical extension have a higher priority than Tour Finals graduates when deciding to gets into tournaments.

Finchem said his staff is evaluating who gets major medical extensions and for how long.

Even so, he is hesitant to make major changes until at least another year of this wraparound season. Plus, there should be more chances for newcomers based on some schedule changes. The tour is expanding the field sizes for the Open and the Las Vegas event. The Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi, left off the 2013-14 schedule, will be played in the fall. The tour also added an event in Alabama next year opposite the British Open.


RETURN TO GLENEAGLES: Jim Furyk and Keegan Bradley are among the few Americans who have played Gleneagles. They accompanied Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson during a scouting trip before the British Open.

But the most experienced American is the youngest rookie: 21-year-old Jordan Spieth.

Spieth was 17 when he played the Junior Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. Spieth won all three of his matches, teaming with Anthony Paolucci in foursomes, with Alison Lee in mixed fourballs and beating Albert Eckhardt in singles. The Americans won the junior cup in 2010, played the week of the varsity matches at Celtic Manor.

"We had six guys and six girls, and we all stayed in the castle," Spieth said. "I think I've played six rounds there."

Spieth said he looks forward to returning, though he rolled his eyes when he said, "I'm sure I'll feel the exact same." There was a gallery for the Junior Ryder Cup, but not much of one.

"It was kind of out there in the middle of nowhere," he said.

To get back into the spirit, Spieth has been using a head cover for his putter that he received that week at Gleneagles.

"Coolest one I've ever had," he said.


LONGTERM PLAN: Jason Kokrak was more interested in starting next year healthy — and on time — than improving his chances in the FedEx Cup.

Kokrak was No. 43 in the FedEx Cup after The Players Championship when he shut it down for three months to have hernia surgery. He has dealt with it since college — a small hole in the muscle wall just above his waist line. He figured he would take care of it as soon as he knew he had his card locked up for the year.

This was no easy fix.

"They had to stretch the muscles together to suture them (over the hole)," he said. "That first week, I couldn't move."

That he managed to play the rest of the year was a mild surprise. Doctors told him it would be at least two months before he could even hit a driver. Kokrak returned at the PGA Championship, where he shot 70-80 to miss the cut. He started the FedEx Cup playoffs having slipped to No. 89, but at least made it to the second week by making the cut at The Barclays. And he nearly made it to Denver for the third playoff event. He shot 66 on Monday and ended his year at No. 73 in the FedEx Cup.

He has a month off before the new season. But at least he's healthy. And he has his card.

"The other option was to wait until after the FedEx Cup," he said. "But I didn't want to have to sit out the entire fall and get behind that early. Once I had my card locked up, I was going to get it done."


DIVOTS: Former Women's British Open champion Jeong Jang has decided to retire after 15 years on the LPGA Tour. ... Oliver Schneiderjans has won the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the No. 1 player in the 2014 World Amateur Golf Ranking. The 21-year-old from Georgia. He becomes the fifth American to win the award since it began in 2007. ... Adam Scott plans to return to home again this fall to play all three events in Australia — the Masters, Open and PGA. He won two of them last year. ... Jim Furyk will return to the PGA Grand Slam of Golf as an alternate because Rory McIlroy won two majors this year. The 36-hole exhibition is for the four major champions. Adam Scott was the first alternate, but turned it down.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Justin Hicks (No. 44) had the highest seed of any player going into the FedEx Cup playoffs who failed to stay in the top 70 and reach the BMW Championship.


FINAL WORD: "I hear people say, 'Hold on a second, he's won eight times with Sean Foley.' I would just argue that eight times over a four-year span with Tiger Woods is not success. That would be like taking over Berkshire Hathaway and growing it at 5 per cent the next year and claiming credit for it." — Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee.

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