Originally created 01/18/06

Feeling the pinch



HONOLULU - Davis Love III once divided the PGA Tour into three classes of players. Some are always going to complain. Others are always going to be content. And everyone else is on the range trying to get better.

Good golf usually takes care of everything.

But in these turbulent times, it no longer seems that simple. With a revamped schedule for 2007, all anyone knows is which tournaments are part of the FedEx Cup, when they are played and that Johnny Miller will have twice as many chances to say someone gagged over a putt.

Uncertainty is to be expected. Not even tour officials know how the new points system will work, and whenever they figure it out, the players will be the last to know. But during a busy week of announcements - including a peculiar TV deal that left out ESPN and locked up The Golf Channel for 15 years - one potential problem emerged.

Good golf starts with getting a chance to play.

Olin Browne is exempt through 2007 because he won the Deutsche Bank Championship. He spent the past two seasons living off sponsor exemptions, and is hopeful that his status as a past champion who finished just outside the top 125 on the money list could get him enough starts for a fair fight.

Sitting in front of his locker at Waialae, he glanced at the FedEx Cup portion of the 2007 schedule - 35 tournaments to qualify for a series of four tournaments that culminates with the Tour Championship in September. One reason for a shorter season is to get more top players to compete together.

But what happens to the little guy?

"I hope that everybody gets a chance to play right away," Browne said. "If you squeeze everyone into a nine-month period, I would think everyone is going to play. That's going to create a little friction with guys out of Q-school."

Most tournaments have room for 144 players until more daylight allows for 156-man fields. Among active players, 211 are fully exempt this year, a list that starts with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and ends with Will MacKenzie and Jeff Gove, who made it to the big leagues through Q-school and the Nationwide Tour.

Do the math.

There is a pecking order for getting into tournaments, and if more of the stars are competing, that might leave limited opportunities for someone who could turn out to be the next Sean O'Hair or Lucas Glover.

Not that you'll hear any complaints.

"I'm just happy to be playing a full schedule," 23-year-old rookie Bill Haas said. "And I'll be just as happy to play a full schedule next year."

Bubba Watson lives a pitching wedge away (with his length, that's three blocks) from tour veteran Ben Bates and shared a worse-case scenario.

"He told me it was great that I made it to '06, because if you don't get top 125 for '07, you might not get in the first 30 events," Watson said. "Nobody knows if Tiger is going to play every week. Nobody knows if Phil is going to play every week. They're probably not. But until they start taking off, you're not going to get in."

Another rookie is Troy Matteson, who got the top spot on the money list from the Nationwide Tour and is ranked ahead of everyone out of the Q-school and the Nationwide. He is playing the Hope this week, and plans to play every chance he gets on the West Coast.

Matteson is happy to be playing. But he could understand someone lower on the list being concerned.

"You'd have more pressure to play good right away," he said.