NAPA, Calif. -- Welcome back. It's been a long 17 days since Jordan Spieth wrapped up the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup titles at East Lake. Believing there is no sense in wasting time -- or letting golf fans miss the sport -- the PGA Tour is back this week with the start of the 2015-16 season at the Frys.com Open. Spieth won't be here, but Rory McIlroy, who finished 15th in the final FedEx Cup standings, is the biggest name in the field.
McIlroy decided to play at Silverado Country Club because he wants to get a head start on the race to this year's FedEx Cup title ... uh, no, that's not the reason. McIlroy is basically required to play the tournament. Three years ago, he was among eight players who entered a non-sanctioned big-money exhibition in Turkey called the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final.
PGA Tour members are required to seek a release to play in conflicting events, but commissioner Tim Finchem did not grant it without payback. In return for allowing the players to compete in Turkey, Finchem extracted a guarantee that each of the "Turkey 8'' would return to the Frys tournament at least once during the next three years.
Time is up for McIlroy, as it is for Rose, Schwartzel and Simpson, who are also competing. Woods was supposed to take care of his obligation this week as well, but back surgery last month means he will miss the rest of the year. Whether he is required to return in the future is unclear. Westwood, Mahan and Kuchar had previously returned to the Frys.
McIlroy will likely say all the right things, but he almost certainly would rather be anywhere else. After the Tour Championship, he returned to Northern Ireland, and now he has traveled another eight time zones back to California. He's still got three big tournaments on the European Tour, where he leads the Race to Dubai standings. One of them is the Turkish Airlines Open.
The "wrap-around'' PGA Tour season is now in its third year, with seven events over six weeks counting in the FedEx Cup standings (although except for the WGC-HSBC Championship, they won't toward 2016 Ryder Cup qualification).
This is typically viewed as a chance for PGA Tour rookies or those who regained their cards through the Web.com Tour to get off to a fast start and earn FedEx Cup points.
Sang-Moon Bae won last year's Fry.com and made it to the Tour Championship. Bubba Watson (HSBC), Charley Hoffman (OHL Classic) and Robert Streb (McGladrey) also won last fall and made it to Atlanta. Streb had three top-10s in five fall starts, showing how big it can be to get off to a good start.
Of the top 30 players at the conclusion of the seven falls events last year, 11 of them were among the top 30 at the end of the regular season, which concluded following the Wyndham Championship.
For those players who do not compete at all in the fall, they clearly put themselves behind once January rolls around. Adam Scott noticed -- he made a late start due to the birth of his daughter -- and made it through only the first FedEx playoff event, the Barclays.
Scott is going to play the CIMB Classic in Malaysia followed by the WGC-HSBC Champions, giving him two no-cut events to earn FedEx points. He also hinted at playing the Sony Open and perhaps another tournament or two early in the new year.
Above all else, the PGA Tour's mandate is to offer playing opportunities for its members. So if a sponsor is willing to put up the prize money and television requirements, the tour will clear snow on the North Pole to stage a tournament.
That's good for the players -- sort of. Yes, they have these fall tournaments to play -- and really, if you don't make the top 125 to keep exempt status, it is not for a lack of tournaments -- but many of them just secured their playing privileges two weeks ago after a four-week run through the Web.com Tour finals. And because their chances of getting into tournaments are better now, many of them -- exhausted -- will play as often as possible.
The elite who made it to the Tour Championship mostly skip these falls events, a long stretch of golf just completed. It is natural that they would try to take some time off, so why start the new season so soon after the old one? McIlroy's appearance this week -- as would have Woods' -- is an aberration. For the most part, sponsors and fans are deprived of the stars.
Some bit of contraction has always been put forth as a way to enhance the product, but it is unlikely to happen, even to the detriment of fans. It's tough to get fired up for "opening day'' when the final round of the season occurred less than three weeks ago -- and many of the game's elite just played in the Presidents Cup.
If the tour insists on playing now or in the fall, it ought to consider a Pacific Swing. Move the Hawaii tournaments to late October, head over to Asia for the tournaments in Malaysia and China, perhaps even co-sanction a tournament in Australia, delay the restart of the season until late January. At the very least, it would be prime-time viewing of some beautiful locales while putting a bit more space in the schedule or allowing the FedEx Cup playoffs to end later.
Whether you agreed with his tactics or not, Phil Mickelson's calling out of captain Tom Watson and the PGA of America after the Ryder Cup last year should be a pretty strong indication that he cares deeply about the U.S. fortunes in the event.
A task force was formed and Mickelson has subsequently joined Woods and 2016 captain Davis Love III on the Ryder Cup Committee. Mickelson's inclusion on the 2015 Presidents Cup team -- and his desire to be part of it after a lackluster season -- should be another indication that Lefty is committed.
Woods, for his part, watched the Presidents Cup from home and even called assistant captain Fred Couples, who eventually handed the phone over to Love, another captain. In comments reported by GolfDigest.com, Love said that Woods expressed interest in helping out next year at Hazeltine if he was unable to play in the Ryder Cup.
In 2008, when Woods was out due to knee surgery, he constantly texted captain Paul Azinger during the Ryder Cup.
And these guys don't care?
There has long been a sense that Mickelson and Woods, perhaps because some of their indifferent play in the Ryder Cup and losing records, are not invested in the team events. And yet, Mickelson has never missed one since playing in his first Presidents Cup in 1994. Woods has missed two Ryder Cups and now a Presidents Cup, but not for lack of wanting to play.
You remember last year heading into the Ryder Cup how he was still be considered by Watson for a spot at Gleneagles? If Woods were anywhere near able, he'd have been there.
Former tour player and now Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee suggested after the Presidents Cup that neither Mickelson nor Woods is deserving of a future captaincy.
"I don't really think it's appropriate to give players a leadership role in an event that they didn't show interest or passion for when they were competitors,'' Chamblee said.
It is unlikely that Chamblee's view is widely held. You can bet when the time comes, both will be coveted by the respective organizations that run the Ryder Cup (PGA of America) and Presidents Cup (PGA Tour). And the players competing for spots will be even more keen to make those teams.
One area of concern for the Ryder Cup Committee: singles play. Once a huge strength for the Americans, the final-day format at both competitions has become something of a struggle lately. The U.S. has failed to win the singles session in the last five Cup competitions, including a Sunday tie in South Korea in which the Americans went 5-5-2 and won the Presidents Cup by a single point.
At last year's Ryder Cup, the U.S. went just 4-5-3 on the final day after trailing 10-6 going into singles. The U.S. held a big lead at the 2013 Presidents Cup, then let things get interesting with a 4-7-1 performance in singles. And of course at the 2012 Ryder Cup, the U.S. blew a big lead because it went 3-8-1 on the last day at Medinah. Even in Australia in 2011 for the Presidents Cup, the U.S. went 6-6 after building a big lead.
The last time the U.S. won singles came at the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales, when a 6-4-2 final day wasn't enough. A half point more would have meant a 14-14 tie, and the U.S. would have retained the Cup.
After a drama-filled final day, the U.S. prevailed at the Presidents Cup when Bill Haas -- the son of captain Jay Haas -- prevailed in the last match against South Korea's Sang-Moon Bae, winning 1 up to secure a 1-point victory for the U.S. -- which is now 9-1-1 in the competition.
"I believe I would have been just as nervous no matter who was out there, but I was more emotional I think because it was Bill. Didn't expect that. As the day went on, and we had a lot of red up on the board early. Then all of a sudden, some of the matches turned a little bit different. And I thought, Bill's match is probably going to matter in some way or another.
"But it just so happened that that's how it played out, and certainly did not -- I didn't come in and say, Bill is going to go 12th no matter what, nothing like that. Fortunately, he was able to hit some great shot down the stretch, like a lot of guys.'' -- U.S. Presidents Cup captain Jay Haas on his son, Bill, earning the final point in the final match.
Around the course
• During the length of the Presidents Cup, the U.S. is 9-1-1 while going 2-8 during that period of the Ryder Cup, including 0-5 in Europe. The last U.S. victory in Europe came in 1993 -- the year before the Presidents Cup was first played and Tom Watson's first go as captain.
• Rickie Fowler continues to have strange results in U.S. team competition. He is now a combined 1-6-5 overall in two Ryder Cups and a Presidents Cup, including 0-2-1 in singles.
• Bubba Watson is 0-4-1 in singles in the two events.
• Although Haas won the 18th hole on Sunday, that final one continues to be a U.S. nemesis. Of the 30 matches at the Presidents Cup, 14 went to the 18th hole, and the U.S. won that hole just four times, while losing it 5 fives and halving it another 5 times.
• This week's Frys.com field has 15 winners from the 2014-15 season and eight players who made it to the Tour Championship.
• The PGA Tour's new season continues next week in Las Vegas.