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Forward Spin

Adam Scott wrapsup the 2006 season with a win at the Tour Championship
But golf is buzzing about what happens on Tour in 2007 and the new 'Zing in the'08 Ryder Cup

The 20-mph guststhat blew through Atlanta last Thursday clearly annoyed the 27 millionairesgoing about their business during the opening round of the season-ending TourChampionship, at East Lake Golf Club. "We need a damn gardener outhere," Ernie Els said after spending the day clearing leaves, pine needlesand assorted debris from his line on the windswept greens.

Others would saythe winds were perfectly timed. Just as surely as they ruined scores anddisrupted Atlanta's lovely montage of fall colors, they were a metaphor for theperiod of transition the PGA Tour has now entered. Adam Scott ended an era whenhe won the Tour Championship and $1.17 million with an 11-under-par 269. Theplayer who wins the Tour Championship next year, when it becomes the grandfinale of the FedEx Cup playoffs, could take home 10 times that. The winds ofchange, in this case, do not mean small change.

Equally strikingwere the changes for the Ryder Cup, which became a hot topic last week afternews leaked that Paul Azinger would be named U.S. captain for the 2008 match.The 46-year-old Azinger was a logical choice: He won the 1997 PGA Championshipand was a passionate Ryder Cupper on the 1989, '91, '93 and 2002 U.S. teamswith a 5-8-3 (2-0-2 in singles) record. He takes the job as the Americans entera new era in that event too--the Age of Desperation. The U.S. has lost threestraight Ryder Cups and has gone from favorite to underdog to punching bag."Paul is a great choice," said Jim Furyk, the runner-up by three shotsat East Lake and a mainstay of the last five U.S. Ryder squads. "He'sfeisty, and he brings a bit of an attitude to a team that I think needs someright now."

Azinger wasofficially introduced as captain on Monday morning at a press conference atValhalla Golf Club in Louisville, where the '08 Cup will be contested. In anunprecedented and bold move, Azinger rewrote the team's selection process.Here's how:

BIG DEAL NO. 1He'll have four wild-card selections on the 12-man team instead of two. Pro:Two fewer "Sorry, pro" phone calls to make, and with four picks Azingercan really put his stamp on the team. Con: He might wind up in the samepredicament Tom Lehman experienced in August, only instead of having to picktwo guys who didn't do diddly all summer, he'll have to select four.

BIG DEAL NO. 2The U.S. team may not be finalized until literally the last minute. Ascheduling quirk has the '08 Ryder Cup being played the week after the TourChampionship. While the eight automatic qualifiers will be determined after thePGA Championship, Azinger has been given the option to wait until the Monday ofTour Championship week--a mere seven days before the team lands inLouisville--to make his wild-card selections. In recent years the captainannounced his picks the day after the PGA. "I have free rein," Azingersaid on Sunday night from Louisville. "My goal is to pick the hottestplayers. It's historic for the PGA of America to agree to this. It completelyhoses them on their souvenir programs, team posters--everything. But they don'tcare. They're desperate to win. They know if it doesn't happen pretty soon,they're not going to be able to sell the Ryder Cup to the American public."Pro: Azinger is almost guaranteed to find somebody who's playing well. Con: Theextra month of pressure from the FedEx Cup playoffs and the possibility ofbeing a pick might mentally drain some players.

BIG DEAL NO. 3The eight players who automatically qualify will do so based on their earnings,which is ironic because next year the Tour is basically eliminating the moneylist and replacing it with FedEx Cup points (box). Previously, players wereawarded Ryder Cup points only for top 10 finishes. Under the new system, in2008 players will get a point for every $1,000 they win, with the '08 majorscounting double. Earnings from the 2007 majors will also count--but notdouble--and no other '07 earnings will count. Because the players believed thattop 10 finishes after this year's PGA counted toward the '08 Cup, those withtop 10s will be awarded a quarter point for every $1,000. Says Azinger, "Itold the PGA, 'I've never choked for a World Ranking point in my life. I'veonly choked for prestige or cash.'" Pro: Every American who makes a cutearns credit toward qualifying for the team; since this system rewardsquantity, some pros may play more. Con: The $50,000 won against a weak fieldcounts the same as the $50,000 won against a strong one; the '06 Funai Classicchamp gets some Ryder Cup credit, but the '07 winner gets nothing.

The dramaticchanges were agreed to barely a week after Azinger was offered the captainship,which occurred during a dinner with PGA of America officials last month inOrlando. "I was pretty sure they weren't flying in to tell me I wasn'tgoing to be the guy," Azinger says. "They asked me a whole host ofquestions, and after about an hour they said, 'We came here thinking you'd bethe guy unless you really screwed up answering the questions, and you knowwhat, Zinger? You haven't screwed up. We want you to be captain.' I said, 'Wow,that's fantastic. I told myself that if you offered me this, I'd take a day ortwo to think about it, but screw that. I'll take it.'"

One other changeshows that Azinger will be a players' captain. There normally are two formaldinners with the European team, officials and special guests during Ryder Cupweek. In '08 there will be only one. "I got us another free night,"Azinger says. "Tiger's going to love that. Everybody is."

In Atlanta, Woodswas the story of the week in absentia. He skipped the Tour Championshipclaiming fatigue, yet will play in China this week for a large appearance fee(a reported $3 million). Phil Mickelson also passed, so the Tour's supposedgrand finale was missing the game's top two attractions. The no-shows were ablack eye for the event. Tom Pernice, who tied for fifth, called them "adisgrace." Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said he was "verydisappointed" with the absences but tried to change the focus to nextyear's tournament, which will come seven weeks earlier and will have a lot moreat stake.

"There'sgoing to be a bigger buzz around this tournament next year," said Furyk."We're not going to hear about who's not here. Everyone is going to make abig deal out of the $10 million first prize. It'll be a bigger bang."

Change is good.Even if it's blowing in the wind.

Fast FedEx FAQs

Points, playoffs, a big-bang finish? Here are answersto questions about the big changes coming to the Tour next year

NEXT YEAR'S Tour Championship will once again mark theculmination of the PGA Tour season. However, the Tour is betting that the 2007tournament--which, unlike this year's Tiger-and-Phil-less snoozer, will comeseven weeks earlier on the calendar and serve as the climax of the inauguralFedEx Cup series playoffs--will be compelling enough to compete even with KingFootball for the attention of sports fans. What is the FedEx Cup? Here areanswers to some frequently asked questions.

Is the FedEx Cup a new tournament? No, it's not atournament, it's a seasonlong points race--like the one used by NASCAR--thatwill end in a four-tournament, $35 million playoff.

How will the FedEx Cup work? Players will accumulatepoints based on tournament finishes from the start of the season in Januarythrough the Wyndham Championship (left) in mid-August (a week after the PGAChampionship). The top 144 point earners (and ties) qualify first for athree-tournament playoff: the Barclay's Classic in the New York area, theDeutsche Bank Championship outside Boston and the BMW Championship nearChicago. Then the top 30 point earners (and ties) in those events advance tothe Tour Championship, after which the player with the most points in the fourplayoff events--not necessarily the winner of the Tour Championship--wins theFedEx Cup title and $10 million.

What if you come in second in the final playoffstandings? You get $3 million. Third is worth $2 million, etc., etc., down to150th.

Won't the final 30 be double-dipping, since they'llcollect checks for their performances in the playoffs and another for theirfinish in the FedEx Cup? Yes, the four playoff tournaments each have a $7million purse.

How will the points be awarded? The top 70 finishers(and ties) earn points in regular events, each of which has a purse of 25,000points (4,500 to the winner). The three World Golf Championships have purses of26,250 (4,725 for first), while the four majors and the Players Championshipare worth 27,500 (4,950) each. If the FedEx points system had been used thisyear, Tiger Woods would've finished the regular season with 32,687 points,about 11,000 more than runner-up Jim Furyk (right).

So Tiger (below) would've won the FedEx Cup in arunaway? Not necessarily. The top 144 players' point totals will be reset afterthe regular season for the playoffs.

How will the reset work? The No. 1 point earner'sscore will be reset to 100,000, no matter how big his previous lead. The No. 2player--Furyk in the simulation--will be reset at 99,000. The totals decline insmall increments after that, with the 144th-ranked player reset at 84,700.Fifty thousand points will be available in each of the four playofftournaments. In the first three the winner gets 9,000 points. In the TourChampionship he gets 10,300.

Can the 144th-ranked player really win the FedEx Cup?Not likely, but not impossible. He would probably have to win two of the finalfour events. That would give him enough points to make up the 15,300-pointentry deficit on the leader.

What if two players tie for the FedEx Cupchampionship? Uh-oh. The Tour hasn't considered that possibility, but a playoffisn't the answer. For example, let's say Tiger has a big points lead in 2008and skips the Tour Championship to rest up for the Ryder Cup, then somebodyties him on points. Tiger wouldn't be onsite for a playoff. Stay tuned.

Why 144 players? Think of it this way: No potentialstar will be left behind. The real focus won't be on the race to crack the top144. (This year Carlos Franco would've nabbed the final spot while Robert Gamezand John Huston would've missed by fewer than 35 points.) The Tour is hopingthat the guys who have a shot at the $10 million will get the headlines.

What if one of the top 144 is unable to play--will hebe replaced by No. 145? No.

Will Tiger play more often? Because of the reset forthe playoffs, there's no huge incentive to earn extra points, so probably not.Yet it might seem as if Woods is playing more if he makes his minimum 15 starts(mandated by the Tour) in a more condensed time period.

Will the top players support the FedEx Cup if it meansplaying five weeks out of six, including the last four in a row? They say theywill, but nobody's assuming that Woods and Mickelson (left) will play in allfour playoff events. If they each play three of four, that would count as avictory for the Tour.

What does the FedEx Cup mean for the European tour?From the PGA through the Tour Championship, European fans will see plenty ofBradley Dredge and Robert-Jan Derksen but nothing of (left to right) SergioGarcía, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and other Euro headliners, who willbe in the U.S.

Will any PGA Tour stops take a hit? Two appear to havemust-miss dates: The Canadian Open (Sept. 7--10 in '06) moves to July 26--29,the week after the British Open and the week before the WGC-BridgestoneInvitational, which is followed by the PGA; and the aforementioned WyndhamChampionship (Oct. 5--8 this year) goes to Aug. 16--19, in its tight spotbetween the PGA and the FedEx Cup playoff run.

How will the FedEx playoffs impact the Presidents andRyder Cups, which will be played shortly after the Tour Championship on the newschedule? Remains to be seen. Next year there's a week off between the TourChampionship and the Presidents Cup, but in '08 the Ryder Cup (left) will beplayed the week after the Tour Championship. Something has to give, becausethere's no way team members will play five weeks in a row.

Is the money list history? Not really. The top 30money winners will continue to get exemptions into the U.S. Open, and the top40 into the Masters. And although the FedEx Cup is being billed as a big-bangconclusion to the season, in reality there are seven official events after theTour Championship--the Fall Series--during which the Tour goes back to rankingthe players the old-fashioned way, by dollars, and the top 125 earn exemptstatus for the following year.

Do those after-the-fact Fall Series events have afuture? After the hype and buildup for the FedEx Cup, the tournaments inVerona, N.Y.; Madison, Miss.; San Antonio; Las Vegas; Scottsdale, Ariz.;Fresno; and Orlando are going to seem even smaller and less important, ifthat's possible.

Will there be an actual FedEx Cup? Yes, Tiffany isworking on one.

Where will the winner receive the cup? On the 18thgreen at East Lake after the final round of the Tour Championship. Same-daydelivery.

PHOTO

SCOTT HALLERAN/GETTY IMAGES (AZINGER AND FALDO)

FUN COUPLE Azinger (left, with European captain Nick Faldo) asked for and received major changes in the U.S. selection process.

PHOTO

FRED VUICH (SCOTT)

THE CLOSER Scott is 4 for 5 when in the lead after 54 holes.

THREE PHOTOS

MICHAEL COHEN/WIREIMAGE.COM (SCOREBOARD); ROBERT BECK (WOODS); FRED VUICH (FURYK)

FIVE PHOTOS

DARREN CARROLL (MICKELSON); FRED VUICH (GARCíA, RYDER CUP); ROBERT BECK (CLARKE, HARRINGTON)

TWO PHOTOS