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PGA Tour has some compelling storylines despite Tiger Woods' absence

The longest season in professional sports officially began last week in Hawaii with the PGA Tour's SBS Championship, reserved for winners of 2009 tournaments.

The first full field event begins today with the Sony Open in Honolulu, and the Tour's regular season rolls into late August. Then there is the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Fall Series, which pushes the schedule into mid November.

But this isn't just any season for the PGA. Tiger Woods is out indefinitely while he gets his life in order after admitting to numerous extramarital affairs. That's like the NBA starting its season without LeBron James, or the NFL without Peyton Manning. Except Woods is more popular and means more to his sport than both of them.

Television ratings and attendance at tournaments Woods would've played are sure to suffer. And if Woods doesn't return before the Masters, it could be a long and dreary season for the PGA Tour's front office.

So why pay attention to the PGA in early 2010? Here are some reasons:

1. When will Tiger return? We are sure to get weekly updates on his status, especially when we head into March. It's hard to imagine Woods would miss the Masters, or any of the other majors this season. He tears up Augusta, and Pebble Beach (U.S. Open) and St. Andrews (British Open) are two of his favorite courses. He will have to answer questions about his infidelity, but the sooner he does, the faster he can golf his way out of trouble. Meanwhile, every early season tournament Woods would've played, like the San Diego Open, the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the WGC-CA Championship, are sure to make less money and have fewer viewers. But when Woods does return, ratings should skyrocket because he will draw even the non-golf fan to the television.

2. Somebody has to fill the void. Phil Mickelson has been mum about Woods since the Thanksgiving incident, but don't think he isn't licking his chops. Mickelson finished the year well by winning the Tour Championship and the World Golf Championship's HSBC Champions tournament in November. His wife and mother are recovering from cancer and said to be doing well. It all seems to be lining up for Mickelson, 39, to have a career year. If that doesn't happen, perhaps some of the young guns can take charge. Sean O'Hair, Zach Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy (who won last week) or Lucas Glover could be the future.

3. Who is this year's Y.E. Yang? Not even the most avid golf fan knew much, if anything, about Yang last year. But he won the PGA Championship by outdueling Woods and finished 10th on the money list with $3,489,516 earned in 23 tournaments. Who knows in 2010, but if it's anything like last year, some no-name is going to hold a major trophy.

4. Will the golf economy get better? The Tour took a bit of a hit last year, mostly from banks and automobile companies that canceled sponsorships. Sucking up to sponsors will be a main focus in 2010. The Tour is going to make sure the title sponsors are taken care of. Players will give clinics and have breakfasts and luncheons with sponsors in an effort to keep them on board. If the PGA can weather the economic downturn, then it has a bright future.

5. Which veteran will appear ageless? Kenny Perry is 49 and playing better than ever. Steve Stricker is 42 and finished second on the money list in 2009. John Daly is 43, has lost 115 pounds and appears more committed than ever to get another win. And last year 59-year-old Tom Watson competed to the very end at the British Open. Could somebody like Mark Calcavecchia (49), Lee Janzen (45) or Palm Harbor's John Huston (48) make one final, entertaining run?

What's new

Equipment change: PGA and European Tour players will be using irons with smaller grooves beginning this season. The Royal and Ancient and United States Golf Association approved the rule, which will allow for less spin on wedges through 5-iron. The rule was made because research showed players were getting too much spin and loft on shots hit out of the rough with the deep, u-shaped grooves of current clubs. It will place more emphasis on accuracy. The rule went into effect last week. It only applies to professional tournaments, and amateurs may still use the deep grooves. This is the first time equipment has been scaled back in golf in nearly 80 years.

Ryder Cup year: As American and European players battle for top spots on the money list, they will be playing to make their Ryder Cup teams. This year's bi-annual event will take place Oct. 1-3 in Wales. U.S. captain Corey Pavin, top, who takes over from the popular Paul Azinger, will be watching closely all season to decide who will make his team. And the defending champs may be without Tiger Woods if he doesn't come back from his indefinite leave.

2010 major tournaments

Tournament Dates/Locations Defending champion
The Masters April 8-11; Augusta National, Augusta, Ga. Angel Cabrera
U.S. Open June 17-20; Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif. Lucas Glover
British Open July 15-18; St. Andrews Links (Old Course), Fife, Scotland Stewart Cink
PGA Championship Aug. 12-15; Whistling Straits GC, Kohler, Wisc. Y.E. Yang

The Florida Swing

Tournament Dates/Locations
The Honda Classic March 4-7; Palm Beach Gardens (PGA National)
WGC-CA Championship March 11-14; Miami (Doral)
Transitions Championship March 18-21; Palm Harbor (Innisbrook)
Arnold Palmer Invitational March 25-28; Orlando (Bay Hill)
OTHER FLORIDA EVENTS
The Players Championship May 6-9; Ponte Vedra Beach (TPC Sawgrass)
Children's Miracle Network Classic Nov. 11-14; Lake Buena Vista (Magnolia and Palm GC)

Locals on tour

PlayerAgeArea tieStatus
Woody Austin45Born in Tampa (Chamberlain High School)Fully exempt
Paul Azinger50Lives in BradentonPast champion,

sponsor's

exemptions. Eligible for Champions Tour
Michael Bradley43Lives in BrandonFully exempt
Bob Heintz39Lives in Palm

Harbor
Partially exempt
John Huston48Lives in Palm

Harbor
Fully exempt

(medical and Top 25 in 2008 PGA

Qualifying School)
Ryuji Imada33Lives in TampaFully exempt
Greg Kraft45Lives in ClearwaterFully exempt
Tim Petrovic43Lives in Dade CityFully exempt

PGA Tour has some compelling storylines despite Tiger Woods' absence 01/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 8:59pm]
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