Big changes could have lasting impact

June, 28, 2012
BETHESDA, Md. -- On Sunday, Casey Wittenberg won the Wichita Open on the Nationwide Tour. But when the 27-year-old former Oklahoma State star, who has two wins on the developmental circuit this year, tees off on Thursday afternoon at the United Leasing Championship in Newburgh, Ind., he will be a member of the Tour.

On Wednesday, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, announced that, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based Internet services provider for small- to medium-sized businesses, has agreed to a 10-year deal to immediately assume title sponsorship of the tour.

"We are extremely pleased to welcome into the PGA Tour's family of sponsors," Finchem said. "The Tour truly is an extension of the PGA Tour and has proven to be the most effective and consistent indicator of future success on tour."

Nationwide, the Columbus, Ohio, insurance company, had been the umbrella sponsor of the tour since 2003 and will continue to support its local PGA Tour event, the Memorial, and the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational on the Tour. takes over the title sponsorship at the most critical time of its tour's 23-year history. Starting in the fall of 2013, all 50 PGA Tour cards will be awarded through the Tour. Right now those 50 cards are split between the minor league circuit and PGA Tour Q-school graduates.

Separately, the PGA Tour announced that the Fall Series events would receive full FedEx Cup points beginning in 2013. In recent years, sponsorship efforts at those events had been hampered by their marginalization on the PGA Tour schedule. In March,, which sponsors one of the Fall Series events, had balked at a tour proposal to award half FedEx Cup points to those tournaments.

Still, there is the issue of what a win at one of the Fall Series events means for a player. Currently, a Fall Series winner doesn't earn an invitation to the Masters. Other than the two-year exemption, this is the most coveted perk that comes with most PGA Tour wins.

Should these players get an invite from Augusta now that their wins come as full-fledged PGA Tour events?

In April, Fred Ridley, chairman of the competition committee for the Masters, didn't give much insight into the club's feelings on the issue when he was asked about the subject on the eve of the first round of the tournament.

"We understand that whatever happens is not going to take place until the fall of 2013, so it would not affect the Masters until 2014," Ridley said. "But it is certainly something we will be considering along with a general review of the qualification criteria, which we do every year."

It wouldn't be surprising for the Masters to not extend invitations to these winners. The Green Jackets are adamant about keeping the field well under 100 players. The club has said it doesn't want to send players off both tees in the first two rounds, which is customary in regular tour events.

In 2011, the Masters had 99 players. It was the event's largest field since 1966. One of the reasons the club cited for the big field was that 10 players qualified by winning PGA Tour events, compared to four or five in previous years.

Even the addition of a handful of players out of the Fall Series could upset the tournament's delicate stagecrafting.

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at





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