On Golf | Tiger the 'real' start of PGA Tour season

If you asked commissioner Tim Finchem, he'd tell you that the PGA Tour season began four weeks ago at the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii.

We know better. Officially or not, for millions of sports fans the real start of the season is whenever and wherever Tiger Woods decides to tee it up. Considering his fat endorsement deal with a certain auto maker and the fact that he is the defending champion, is anyone surprised it happens to be at this week's Buick Invitational in San Diego?

In addition to that, here are a few things to look forward to in golf in 2007.

Tiger's streak. Woods says there is no streak, that it ended at five in a row last October when he got eliminated in the HSBC World Match Play Championship in England.

Phooey, say much of the media, which puts Woods' PGA Tour streak at six, because the World Match Play was a European Tour event. If Woods is in contention this afternoon in the Buick, the hype over win No. 7 will be nonstop.

If he wins, brace yourself for the talk that Woods could break Byron Nelson's once-unbreakable record of 11 straight. The way he is playing, it's not out of the question, especially if Woods picks and chooses his tournaments carefully.

Woods can play down the streak and pretend it doesn't matter all he wants, knowing that the media and the PGA Tour will carry his water for him on this one.

The test of how much the streak truly matters will come, if it's still alive, when he has to decide whether to skip the Nissan Open in his hometown of Los Angeles, where he has never won going back to his amateur days.

Tiger cub. With the first Tiger cub due to arrive in July - wife Elin's exact due date is guarded - expect Woods to miss the U.S. Open or, more likely, the British Open.

"If she's going to have it during the week of the Open, I just don't go," Woods said last week.

By the way, if it's a boy, bet the farm they'll name him "Earl," after his late dad; if it's a girl, what, "Earlene" or "Earlina"?

FedEx Cup. I don't know about your office, but at The Inquirer it's hard to even make your way to the water cooler, what with everyone congregating there to talk about the latest buzz from the FedEx Cup.

Three tournaments into the season, it's hard not to notice that the top three players in the standings of the new, improved measure of success, the FedEx Cup, are:

1, Vijay Singh; 2, Paul Goydos; 3, Charley Hoffman.

By contrast, the top three players on that old, outmoded measure of success, the money list, are:

1, Vijay Singh; 2, Paul Goydos; 3, Charley Hoffman.

Golf Channel. ESPN is gone. ABC Sports is gone. And although CBS (19 events) and NBC (15 events) will still be around on plenty of weekends, the Golf Channel is the new backbone of golf on television.

The niche network, which is owned by Philadelphia-based Comcast, is in the first few weeks of a 15-year contract that gives it broadcast rights to the Thursday-Friday rounds of all 43 PGA Tour tournaments and all four rounds at more than a dozen.

Nick Faldo, late of ABC/ESPN, was hired as the lead color man. (Faldo will do double-duty at CBS, having bumped Lanny Wadkins from the booth.) Golf Channel vet Kelly Tilghman is handling play-by-play, joined by Rich Lerner, Dottie Pepper, Mark Rolfing and Peter Oosterhuis.

After a few rough edges early on, the broadcasts are getting better by the week. Be patient.

Majors. It should be a good year for the majors, with the possible exception of the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla.

It was unbearably hot there in June for the 2001 U.S. Open. What's it going to be like in the dog days of August?

Of the three others, last time I checked the Masters will still be at Augusta National. The U.S. Open will be at Oakmont Country Club, near Pittsburgh, host to seven previous Opens. Everyone I know who has played Oakmont swears it is the toughest course they've ever played.

The British Open returns to the respected Carnoustie in Scotland, site of Jan Van de Velde meltdown in 1999.

Schedule changes. With the advent of the FedEx Cup, there are significant changes to the PGA Tour schedule.

First and foremost, for most of the top stars such as Tiger Woods, the season will end two months earlier, with a Tour Championship that has been moved to mid-September. After that, seven tournaments, called the Fall Series, will remain on the schedule, but the fields will likely be guys trying to hold on to their Tour cards or earn extra bucks.

The other big change is to the Players Championship, the so-called fifth major, which is being pushed back from late March to early May, between the Masters in April and the U.S. Open in June.

In other changes, Doral, which used to kick off the Florida swing in late February, has been morphed into a World Golf Championship event that ends the swing in late March.

Another WGC event, the Match Play Championship, leaves the La Costa Resort in Southern California for the Gallery in Tucson, Ariz. The Chrysler Classic of Tucson, which went largely unnoticed up against Match Play, heads south of the border to Cancun to become the Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera Maya.

The Bay Hill Invitational becomes the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The Mercedes Championships, in case you didn't notice, is now the Mercedes-Benz Championship.

Presidents Cup. With the bitter defeat of last year's Ryder Cup still hanging in the air, it will be interesting to see if returning captain Jack Nicklaus takes essentially the same core of players to Montreal and whips a tough team of Internationals.

He did it the last time around, in 2005, in Virginia, against International captain Gary Player, who also returns. The U.S. leads in this series, 4-1-1.

Walker Cup. Philadelphia will have a local rooting interest in this year's Walker Cup, the amateur version of the Ryder Cup.

When the U.S. squad heads to Royal County Down in Ireland for the September matches, the captain will be Buddy Marucci, from Wayne, a former Walker Cup player best know for his runner-up finish to Tiger Woods in the 1995 U.S. Amateur.

Marucci is also expected to be the captain when his home club, Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, hosts the 2009 Walker Cup.

GAP tournaments. Speaking of Merion, for the first time since 1990, the club will also host this year's Philadelphia Open (Aug. 6), arguably the crown jewel of the local golf calendar.

The Philadelphia Amateur Champion (June 11-12 and 16) will be at Applebrook Golf Club and White Manor Country Club, with match play at Applebrook.

Contact staff writer Joe Logan

at 215-854-5604 or jlogan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/joelogan; read his blog at www.golfinq.blogspot.com.