Updated: November 19, 2013, 11:38 AM ET

Wrapping up early portion of 2013-14 season

By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

For those keeping track, there are only 45 days until the PGA Tour resumes the 2013-14 schedule with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Front nine
Golf on the PGA Tour, at least the official variety, has concluded in 2013. Harris English will be the answer to the trivia question: Who claimed the last event in the PGA Tour's final tournament in the start to its new wraparound schedule?

Dustin Johnson
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesSo far in the 2013-14 season, the PGA Tour has staged six tournaments in four countries, including Dustin Johnson's WGC victory in China.

That mouthful alone has made many wonder why the PGA Tour is going down this path.

Not everyone is happy that the new season began just 18 days after the old one was completed, especially players coming off the Web.com Tour Finals who expected playing opportunities in the six-tournament stretch that started at the Frys.com Open and ended Sunday in Mexico, where English won his second PGA Tour title.

From California to Nevada to Malaysia to China to Georgia and then to Mexico, the tour offered up playing opportunities and for the first time doled out FedEx Cup points. The Masters Tournament also supported the move by offering invitations to the winners, meaning that three players who might not have otherwise qualified -- Jimmy Walker, Ryan Moore and Chris Kirk -- managed to earn a spot in the first major of the year by winning tournaments.

But there has been a good bit of grumbling. Some players would prefer these tournaments not count, simply because they don't want to get behind in the FedEx race and prefer to take time off or chase appearance fees around the world. Others wondered how fair it is to new tour members to have virtually no shot at getting to play -- two of the overseas tournaments were limited fields. And the television ratings were basically inconsequential.

"Sometimes we get too caught up when you're deep in the football season in this country, it's tough to cut through from a television standpoint," said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. "That's the reality. That's one of the reasons we moved the Tour Championship up where we did. But globally we still maintain interest, and that's important.

"The field strength has gone up a little bit, so it's been a little tougher than some of us expected for some of the rookies to get in tournaments. So that's something to watch. But overall I think we feel pretty good about it and we'll wait and see how the numbers play out."

While some players would prefer a meaningful offseason, the truth is golf is being played in the fall, and the PGA Tour does not want to sit on the sideline. So if there are tournaments to be offered, they might as well have some meaning, hence the FedEx Cup and Masters perks.

How this impacts the rest of the schedule will be interesting to see. Webb Simpson, who won in Las Vegas, said he might cut back early in the year. Phil Mickelson, who played in Malaysia and China, has said he will be cutting back in 2014, and now already has two tournaments that count toward his requirements for tour membership.

One thing is certain: Walker, Simpson, Moore, Dustin Johnson, Kirk and English took advantage of the start to the new season. All of these early winners have given themselves a head start on the FedEx Cup race. And when the first tournament of 2014 commences in Hawaii, it won't be the start of the new season, rather the continuation of the one already started.

At the turn
At least the PGA Tour took 18 days between ending one season and starting another. The European Tour is taking four. After the conclusion of the 2013 season in Dubai, the 2014 season begins Thursday with the South African Open in Johannesburg. The tournament is the first of at least 48 events that will be played in 26 countries through the DP World Tour Championship, the conclusion of the Race to Dubai, Nov. 20-23, 2014.

The season begins with two events in South Africa (as well as the unofficial Nedbank Challenge) before heading to Hong Kong and then back to South Africa prior to Christmas. After a holiday break, the schedule resumes in South Africa before a three-week Middle East run in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai. The first event to be played in Europe won't be until May.

Back nine
Give PGA of America president Ted Bishop credit for his pluck. Last week on the Golf Channel, Bishop suggested that the PGA Championship's first venture outside of the United States might come at ... Royal Portrush.

Royal Portrush Golf Club
David Cannon/Getty ImagesMight Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland be the first course outside the United States to host the PGA Championship? It's clearly in the running if the PGA of America does decide to take its major overseas.

That was a stunner. Portrush, located in Northern Ireland and a favorite of many, including Ulstermen Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, hosted its one-and-only Open Championship in 1951, the only time the tournament was played outside of Great Britain.

With the success of golfers from Northern Ireland in recent years, the venue has again come into vogue as a potential future Open site, despite logistical concerns that understandably make the R&A leery. R&A officials have investigated the venue, including last year when the Irish Open was played there before massive crowds.

And this is where you might be wondering if Bishop isn't simply trying to rankle R&A secretary Peter Dawson, with whom he sparred earlier this year over the anchored putting issue. The R&A was clearly behind the rules change, while the PGA of America was not.

"Royal Portrush would be a great first international major," Bishop said. "I think given the powerful effect that Irish golfers have on the professional game today, that might be a good place to start."

McIlroy said in Dubai last week that he had actually been approached about the topic by Bishop months ago. "He asked me what I thought about the USPGA being staged in Ireland and of course it would be fantastic," McIlroy said.

How realistic the idea is remains another matter.

The PGA has said the first available opportunity for the Championship would be in 2020, and that the organization was exploring the possibility of moving the tournament outside of the United States perhaps once or twice a decade.

But the conjecture centered around emerging markets overseas, such as Asia, or perhaps Australia, where the Sandbelt courses would offer an awesome place to take the tournament if the PGA would consider moving its date.

Portrush only works in the summer, and that would make for an awkward scheduling situation if an Open Championship were played at St. Andrews as expected, and then three weeks later, the PGA Championship returned to the U.K.

Nonetheless, it is amazing to consider the possibilities.

Bob Harig | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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