The PGA Tour kicked off its new wraparound schedule this fall to be more in line with other major sports leagues. What should we make of the new system? Are there any suggestions for fixes that might help improve things?
Our scribes dive into those topics and more in the latest edition of Four-Ball.
1. Who was the biggest surprise winner in the six-tourney start to the season?
Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: Jimmy Walker. He's a guy who works hard but never seemed to be able to close the deal (similar to Briny Baird). So for Walker to win the first event of the new season might just mean this is going to be a wild year. Webb Simpson winning in Vegas verified that.
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: I wasn't surprised by any of those winners. Perhaps Jimmy Walker because it took him 188 events to finally get a PGA Tour victory, but he had five top-10s in 2013 prior to the start of the wraparound season. It's hard to call anybody a surprise winner nowadays on the supertalented PGA Tour.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Jimmy Walker. Not because he wasn't capable, but Walker had endured his share of close calls without ever winning a PGA Tour event. By taking the first tournament of the new season, he set himself up nicely for a big year with the chance to play in majors.
Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Ryan Moore. The CIMB Classic winner had his worst year in terms of money earned in 2013 dating back to his 2008 campaign. With his third PGA Tour title and fast start in the fall with two top-10s, he has already banked more in 2013-14 than the previous season. Expect an easier ride early in 2014 to help carry him into the majors season.
2. How would you grade the wraparound schedule so far?
Collins: I'd give the start a C-minus. In the ratings game, they're getting killed by a "reality" golf game show, which is an indication to the interest. Just like the FedEx Cup, though, I'm going to give it three full go-rounds before I give it my full wrath.
Evans: It's exciting for the players, but I wish the fields would increase by 15 to 20 to give more players an opportunity to play at the beginning of the schedule. There doesn't seem to be enough space in the fields to include all the fully exempt regular tour players and the Web.com Tour graduates.
Harig: B. The attitude has been that if you are going to play tournaments following the Tour Championship, they need to matter. These tournaments matter now -- for FedEx points and the Masters. But the geographical alignment and lack of opportunities for those who advance from the Web.com Tour Final Series could use some work to make the system better.
Maguire: I'd go with a B, only because we didn't see many of the big names playing in the U.S.-based portion of the fall schedule. No one really expected the Tiger Woods' or Phil Mickelson's of the world to tee it up at the McGladrey Classic, but that's what keeps it from being an A. The fact that these fall winners earned Masters invites if they weren't already exempt into the first major of 2014 makes it all the more exciting.
3. What will be the repercussions, if any, of players who skipped the start of the 2013-14 season?
Collins: None right now, but guys ranked outside the top 50 in the world rankings at the end of the year might have to rethink their scheduling if they are struggling with FedEx Cup points. Next year, when guys miss the FedEx Cup Playoffs, is when you're going to see movement early.
Evans: None. As Tiger Woods has so often reminded those when asked why he doesn't play in a particular event, tour players are "independent contractors" not contractually bound by an organization or league to play in any event.
Harig: They have some ground to make up, but it's hardly insurmountable. Jimmy Walker leads the FedEx Cup points list, but a player who has zero points can surpass him with a win and a second or a handful of top-10 finishes. Any player who wins a tournament is going to be right back among the FedEx Cup points leaders.
Maguire: We won't know this, really, until we get into the middle of the summer when guys are trying to make a move in the FedEx Cup playoff standings or vying for a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. All it takes is one player who missed out on the next stage of the playoffs by a shot or two to prove the worth of these events. Had he played the McGladrey Classic or one of the other tournaments in October or November that he was qualified for, he would have advanced to the Tour Championship -- or something along those lines. It will be interesting to see how it develops, though.
4. What tweaks, if any, would you make to the wraparound schedule?
Collins: There is a group of guys who, by definition, have their tour cards but because of the small fields have been prevented from getting a start. That needs to change. I say for the first non-WGC events, no one inside the top 50 from the FedEx Cup may enter. You have a feeder system in place, PGA Tour. Let's see what these guys have got!
Evans: I would make sure that the 25 Web.com Tour graduates got into all the fall events. After proving themselves on maybe the second-best tour in the world, they should be rewarded at the end of the year to prove themselves on the big tour. PGA Tour regulars can fill out the other 120 spots.
Harig: This is a bit radical, but I would have it be completely international. Give the players a few weeks off after the Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup and then take a combination of the CIMB Classic (Malaysia), the WGC-HSBC Champions (China) and two of the Australian events and make it a four-tournament international swing. Make two or three of the other fall events opposite-field tournaments (lower FedEx, no Masters) either in the fall or another part of the year.
Maguire: Let's fix the all-over-the-place randomness of the tournament dates and sites. To start the new wraparound schedule, the PGA Tour went from California to Las Vegas to Malaysia to China to Georgia to Mexico.
The beauty of the old start to the season, which begins anew right after the new year, was how tournaments started in Hawaii and eventually worked their way east. There was some flow with that, and the natural progression seemed to work. The end of the fall portion of the 2013-14 schedule feels like they tossed the dates into a pile and picked them out of a hat.