Fall preview: 2019-20 PGA TOUR season
September 03, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- Phil Mickelson plans to play the Safeway Open and THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
The start of the 2019-20 season is just around the corner. Next week’s A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier will kick off the fall portion of the schedule that includes 11 tournaments prior to Thanksgiving – most ever since the wraparound schedule was introduced. Here’s a quick look at the first three months of the season.
FIELD SIZES: Three changes have been made starting this season that are worth noting. Two impact the fall schedule:
- Instead of the traditional top-70 and ties to make the cut, the PGA TOUR has adjusted that number to top 65 and ties. That starts with the Greenbrier event.
- Opposite-field events will reduce field sizes from 132 players to 120 players. The first one of the season will be played in early November at the new Bermuda Championship, which is opposite the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions.
In addition, the field size for the Genesis Invitational next February will be 120 players. Last year under its previous name, the Genesis Open, the field was 144 players. The reduction to 120 players means the tournament, played at Riviera and hosted by the Tiger Woods Foundation, will be the same size as the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, and the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.
“We've taken steps to make certain that we've got our product in the best possible position from a field size standpoint and quality of presentation,” PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan said.
NEW EVENTS: There are two new events on the fall calendar:
The ZOZO Championship becomes the first annual PGA TOUR event to be held in Japan and will be part of the Asian swing, taking the place of the CIMB Classic. Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club is the host venue at Chiba Prefecture, and will be played the week of Oct. 21.
The field will consist of 78 professionals, including 60 available players from the previous season’s FedExCup points list, 10 designated by the JGTO and eight special exemptions.
Ty Votaw, the PGA TOUR’s Executive Vice President, International, said the tournament “further strengthens our presence in Asia and certainly comes at an opportune time with golf set to follow its highly successful return to the Olympics in Rio when Tokyo hosts the 2020 Games.”
A week later, the aforementioned Bermuda Championship takes place at Port Royal Golf Club in Southampton and will be the first official TOUR event on the island. The title sponsor is the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
“Bermuda is an appealing year-round destination, and the players will love visiting in the fall,” Votaw said, “plus we will be hosted by an outstanding golf course.”
NEW DATES: Two tournaments are making their return to the PGA TOUR after one-year absences as the TOUR re-adjusted its schedule for a pre-Labor Day finish.
A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier is the lead-off event this fall. It was last played in July, 2018, with Kevin Na emerging victorious at the Old White TPC.
The Houston Open is the fifth event of the fall; it was previously held the week before the Masters. The tournament also has a new host organization, The Astros Foundation. The Golf Club of Houston, which has been the tournament venue since 2003, will be the site of this year’s event. It was last played in April, 2018, with Ian Poulter the winner.
UPGRADE: The Sanderson Farms Championship has been elevated to a 500-point FedExCup event for the winner and will have its own week (Sept. 16-22); it was previously an opposite-field event held in October. “As a stand-alone event … we look forward to giving our fans the best event in tournament history,” tournament executive director Steve Jent said when the change was announced.
NEW PLAYERS: As usual, there will be several fresh faces in their first year as PGA TOUR members. Among those graduating from the Korn Ferry Tour include Korn Ferry Tour Championship winner Tom Lewis; Xinjun Zhang of China, who led The 25 in the regular season; Scottie Scheffler, the former University of Texas standout; Maverick McNealy, a former No. 1-ranked amateur and Haskins Award winner; and Scott Harrington, the 38-year-old who took time off last season to help his wife in her battle against cancer.
PGA TOUR LIVE: For the first time, PGA TOUR LIVE will offer Thursday and Friday coverage of select fall events. In addition, there will be coverage of the Presidents Cup from Melbourne, Australia, in December. Click here for more information.
OFF-WEEK: Following the two-event week of the WGC-HSBC Champions and the Bermuda Championship, there will be an off-week before the schedule resumes with the final two fall events, the Mayakoba Golf Classic and The RSM Classic. The previous season’s schedule did not include an off-week.
Playing well in the fall events certainly helps alleviate some of the pressure of trying to make up points in the FedExCup standings once the calendar flips to a new year.
Consider this: It took 376 points to make the top 125 that advanced to the FedExCup Playoffs in 2019. Based on how the standings looked after last year's final fall event, The RSM Classic, a dozen players had already reached that threshold – and 20 more were already halfway to that mark.
Meanwhile, victory in the fall is a big step toward making the 30-man TOUR Championship. Of the eight winners last fall, six advanced to East Lake – and one other player, Kevin Tway, came up just short (31st in the standings).
The increase from eight events to 11 makes it even more urgent to compete in the fall or fear getting left behind. Commissioner Monahan is encouraged by what he’s hearing about participation by TOUR members.
“We're getting indications that guys are going to be ramping up and playing more at the start of the season than they've played in the past,” he said.
PRESIDENTS CUP IMPACT
The eight automatic spots for the U.S. and International teams for December’s showdown in Melbourne, Australia, are set. That leaves four captain’s picks on each side up for grabs. Captains Tiger Woods and Ernie Els will announce their selections after the WGC-HSBC Champions event, meaning players who want to make an impression have eight weeks’ worth of tournaments to do so.
Although the points standings are no longer applicable, here are the next four on each side going into the fall as a starting point. U.S. Nos. 9-12 (Tony Finau, Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed – and incidentally, Tiger is 13th); International Nos. 9-12 (Jason Day, Jazz Janewattananoud, Sungjae Im, Justin Harding).
Fowler is getting married this fall, so he hopes his previous appearances (six national team selections) will be considered. Plus, he said, “Something I have going for myself, I've played really well in Australia. I play really well in links golf. That's my favorite style.”
You’ll notice that names not in the top 12 include Americans Phil Mickelson (who has made every U.S. Team, Presidents or Ryder Cup, since 1994) and Jordan Spieth (six consecutive U.S. appearances in team events); and the International’s Branden Grace (last three Presidents Cups).
Mickelson, who finished last season saying he “needed a break,” definitely plans to play the Safeway Open and THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES. “If I play well, I might try to add a couple in Asia to try to warrant a pick,” he said. “If I'm not playing well, I probably won't.”
Woods said he does not have a specific number when asked how many starts he wants potential picks to make this fall. “Each player is different, but I would like to have them play a little bit in the fall and stay sharp, whether it's playing on U.S. soil or going overseas or whatever it may be to play and to be sharp and be ready to go,” he said.
Els said that there’s no formula for becoming one of his picks. “We've just got to just watch intently on the other guys,” he explained. “It's huge for us to pick obviously the right four to join the top eight, and you know, there's already very interesting scenarios that have come up. Guys have won tournaments, guys looking from the outside in, and it's going to be interesting times ahead.”
Im, the only rookie who reached the TOUR Championship last season, isn’t leaving anything to chance. He’s planning to make six starts on TOUR this fall before the picks are announced. “I hope Captain Els can take into account that I advanced to the TOUR Championship as a rookie,” he said. “Hopefully that will give me a better chance to make the team.”
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TIGER IN THE FALL
Tiger Woods sightings after the TOUR Championship have been rare in recent years. Sure, there’s his annual Hero World Challenge that he hosts in the Bahamas. There’s usually a team event appearance (and, as mentioned, he’s the U.S. Team captain this year at Royal Melbourne). He may make an appearance somewhere else (see last year’s Tiger vs. Phil match).
His official PGA TOUR playing schedule, though, generally goes into hibernation until the West Coast Swing. In fact, in the last 12 years, the only time he’s played an official TOUR event in the fall was the 2011 Safeway Open, which ended that year on Oct. 1. That was in California.
Prior to that, Tiger’s last official TOUR appearance in the fall was the 2006 World Golf Championships-American Express Championship. That was his sixth straight win to end the season (and he’d later add a seventh consecutive win in his first start in 2007).
Now Tiger is set to play the new ZOZO Championship in Japan. It will be his first start since the BMW Championship, where he failed to qualify for the TOUR Championship to defend his title.
Before he left Medinah that Sunday, Woods said the most important thing prior to his appearance in Japan was working on his fitness. “Keep going the way I'm going right now because I need to get a little bit stronger in certain body parts. Activate different areas. I need to get those parts stronger for sure and then start building up my game for Japan,” he said.
The key here is that we’ll get to see his progress a little earlier than usual.