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Nov. 13, 2006
Nov. 13, 2006

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Nov. 13, 2006

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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

This is an article from the Nov. 13, 2006 issue

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.

PHOTOSCOTT 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 PHOTOSMICHAEL COHEN/WIREIMAGE.COM (SCOREBOARD); ROBERT BECK (WOODS); FRED VUICH (FURYK)FIVE PHOTOSDARREN CARROLL (MICKELSON); FRED VUICH (GARCíA, RYDER CUP); ROBERT BECK (CLARKE, HARRINGTON)TWO PHOTOS