Face it, the drama has gone away

Plenty of questions still are to be answered about next year's FedEx Cup schedule on the PGA Tour, one that will shrink the main portion of the season and conclude with a four-tournament playoff series.

There are enough unknowns to cause concern, but not enough to override the decision to make such a dramatic change.

This week's Tour Championship is proof.

When the season's final, big-money event cannot draw the game's two biggest names, something is wrong. Whether the new FedEx Cup schedule is the answer remains to be seen, but the loss of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson this week is a mini-validation for the new system.

The golf season is simply too long.

Woods hasn't played in more than a month. Mickelson shut it down after the Ryder Cup. The big names in golf have made only sporadic appearances of late, some split between the PGA Tour and Europe. And then there is big, bad football, which saps the life out of these late-season events, mostly because golf fans -- who, for the most part, also like other sports -- are watching games on the gridiron.

So we come to the final event on the PGA Tour schedule almost looking to just get it over with.

There was more drama at Sunday's season-ending Champions Tour event, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, where the season-long race for a $1 million annuity came down to a missed 5-footer on the final green by Loren Roberts.

In a few weeks, the LPGA Tour season will conclude with the ADT Championship, which has gone to a quirky but still compelling conclusion. The 32-player field will be cut to eight participants by Sunday, when they will start over and play 18 holes for $1 million. The runner-up gets just $100,000, so the tournament is hardly a money grab.

In Atlanta, there is absolutely no drama left, not with Woods resting up for a two-week jaunt to Asia. Although Woods long ago wrapped up the money title and player of the year honors, he does still have that six-tournament winning streak that would have had people talking this week.

A Mickelson appearance might have served only for more opportunities to pile on, as Lefty has made it clear that his heart is not into it at this time of year. Say what you want about that, but at least Mickelson is true to his convictions. When he says he is shutting it down, he is shutting it down, not even going to the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, an event he qualified for by winning the Masters. He is not expected back until January at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

But here is the rub: Both Woods and Mickelson campaigned for a shorter season. They publicly said they were on board with the new FedEx Cup series that will conclude in mid-September, six weeks earlier than this year. And they have set themselves up for some criticism if they don't support it.

Next year's season will conclude with the top players all but being required to play six out of seven weeks. Starting at the British Open in July -- when the season typically seems like it is miles from the finish line -- there are seven of nine weeks through the Tour Championship that will seemingly be must-play events. That's the same schedule Woods recently kept, which he said left him exhausted and needing to recharge his batteries.

It's a lot of golf and will no doubt lead to other drawbacks in the 2007 schedule.

But if all of the top players sign on, it is a much better conclusion than one in the middle of football season with the best players watching from the sideline.

At least it seems better right now.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.