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New PGA Tour schedule still has a few moving parts

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Jay Monahan might have been overly ambitious when he said he hoped to have next year’s PGA Tour schedule ready to announce at The Players Championship. The commissioner is not in a big rush, and there remain a few moving parts.

And it goes beyond finding a title sponsor for the Houston Open.

The Houston Open currently is slotted for the week before the U.S. Open next year, and tour officials remain confident it will be on the schedule. The final piece of the puzzle is the section between the U.S. Open and the British Open.

The John Deere Classic has been held the week before the British Open since 2004, except for in 2016 because of the Olympics.

”Our hope is to keep our traditional date,” tournament director Clair Peterson said.

The PGA Tour wants to wrap up the FedEx Cup playoffs before football season, and not just the start of the NFL. The plan is for the season to end before college football gets started, which means finishing a week before Labor Day.

The FedEx St. Jude Invitational, which becomes a World Golf Championship next year, would be played the week after the British Open. Players would have to get from Northern Ireland (Royal Portrush hosts the Open in 2019) straight to Memphis, Tennessee.

That would be followed by the Wyndham Championship, and then straight into three FedEx Cup playoff events with the Tour Championship ending on Aug. 25.

The Travelers Championship is likely to stay put the week after the U.S. Open. The other three weeks would be filled with the RBC Canadian Open, the John Deere Classic and a new tournament in Detroit. Details are being finalized for Quicken Loans to be the title sponsor, though it would not involve the Tiger Woods Foundation.

Two weeks before the British Open, the tournament dates next year would be July 4-7.

July Fourth has become problematic for some tournaments because family holidays make it difficult to secure volunteers, among other things.

And that’s just next year.

Still to come is the next Olympic year in 2020 when the Summer Games go to Tokyo. Among the discussions is whether the PGA Tour will go dark during the Olympics. Last time, the John Deere Classic was played during the Olympics.

US OPEN EXEMPTIONS

This is the final week for players to avoid 36-hole sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and all Chesson Hadley can do is hope. He is projected to go from No. 62 to No. 60 after this week, but he is not playing the AT&T Byron Nelson and can be passed.

Among those on the bubble are Dylan Frittelli (No. 55), Peter Uihlein (No. 57) and Charles Howell III (No. 59). Frittelli is not playing, while Uihlein and Howell are playing the new Trinity Forest course for the Byron Nelson.

Thomas Pieters also needs a good week. Pieters is the tournament host of the Belgian Knockout, a new event on the European Tour schedule that features 36 holes of stroke play to reduce the field to 64 players, following by 9-hole medal matches. The field is weak and the ranking points are minimal for Europe. Pieters is at No. 60 and projected to drop, so he likely needs somewhere around 10th to remain in the top 60.

Adam Scott is playing in Dallas, and at No. 65 in the world, a ranking specialist who goes by ”Nosferatu” on Twitter estimates the Australian would need a two-way tie for ninth to reach the projected No. 60. That could change depending on how others fare.

Scott has not missed a major since 2001. He was entered in U.S. Open qualifying that year, but withdrew.

The good news: The U.S. Open is reserving spots for anyone who cracks the top 60 the week before the championship.

ALLEZ, JUSTIN

Two days after Justin Thomas rose to No. 1 in the world, the European Tour announced he was playing the French Open this year.

The two are not connected.

Thomas has resisted the temptation to chase appearance money even as his stature has grown in the last few years. Since becoming a PGA Tour member, the only overseas event he has played on another tour was the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan at the end of 2016. Three of his eight PGA Tour victories were in Asia.

This is mainly about the Ryder Cup.

The French Open, which runs from June 28 to July 1, is at Le Golf National, the host course for the Ryder Cup in late September.

”I’m excited to see the course and go check it out a little bit,” Thomas said. ”It’s not like a Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup in the States where we can just pop over and play when we want. I’m hoping to get some good vibes from it and learn a few things about the course. It is always good to help provide any information that might help our team prepare.”

The French Open is the same week as The National, which Thomas has played the last three years.

This will be his second start on the European Tour. Thomas made his pro debut in the Dunhill Links Championship in 2013, before he had status on any tour. The other pro in his group the opening three rounds was Tommy Fleetwood, whose career was just getting started.

Fleetwood, currently ranked 10th and a near-lock to make his Ryder Cup debut this fall, also will be at the French Open.

STAYING ON TOP

Justin Thomas reached No. 1 in the world just in time for a two-week break. He is not expected to play again until the Memorial, and while odds are he still will be atop the ranking, it’s possible he could be replaced.

Jordan Spieth is at No. 3 in the world and playing the AT&T Byron Nelson and at Colonial, though he would need to win the Colonial and have somewhere around a top-5 finish at the Nelson to get back to No. 1.

Of the 21 players to reach No. 1, Tom Lehman is the only one never to have played as the top-ranked player in golf.

Lehman reached No. 1 by tying for fourth at Hilton Head in 1997. He did not play the Greater Greensboro Classic the following week, and Greg Norman replaced him by finishing second in the Spanish Open. That turned out to be Lehman’s only week at No. 1.

DIVOTS

The USGA and R&A have launched the ”Distance Insights” project to analyze distance in golf and compile perspectives from groups ranging from players to equipment manufacturers, superintendents to architects, golf course owners and tour administrators. Among the topics to explore are how distance affects pace of play, golf course construction and maintenance practices. They plan to deliver a report on their findings in 2019. … Webb Simpson became the third player since 1982 to lead the field in driving accuracy at the TPC Sawgrass and win The Players Championship. The others were Fred Funk (2005) and Greg Norman (1994). … Bernhard Langer will try to become the first player to win the Regions Tradition three straight times. Jack Nicklaus twice won the senior major back-to-back. … Steve Williams returns to caddie on the PGA Tour, working the next two weeks for Aaron Baddeley.

STAT OF THE WEEK

From August 1999 through October 2010, only two players reached No. 1 in the world – Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh. Since then, 11 players have reached No. 1.

FINAL WORD

”These great championships stand the test of time for a reason, and they’ve gone away from winning formulas.” – Adam Scott, on the USGA’s setup for U.S. Opens.

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