Picture: 123RF/DEKLOFENAK
Picture: 123RF/DEKLOFENAK

White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia — It is only 16 days since Rory McIlroy was crowned FedEx Cup champion but players are already gearing up for the new US PGA Tour season with the opening event, the Greenbrier Classic, starting in West Virginia on Thursday.

With the calendar even more crowded thanks to the golf event at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Classic will be the first of 49 official FedEx Cup events, of which 11 will be played by late November as part of the so-called “wraparound” season.

World No 10 Bryson DeChambeau heads the field in West Virginia, while the spotlight will also be on 2018 US amateur champion Viktor Hovland as the Norwegian makes his debut as a tour member after a series of impressive results since turning professional in June.

The event will be followed by four more in the US before the tour crosses the Pacific for a three-event Asian swing with tournaments in South Korea, China and the new Zozo Championship in Japan, which replaces Kuala Lumpur’s CIMB Classic on the calendar.

McIlroy and Tiger Woods are among a host of top names already signed up to play in Japan. The top American and international players will be active until just before Christmas due to the December 12-15 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in Australia, and after a short break the 2020 campaign will roll on at a relentless pace.

From late February to late August there is a top event almost every other week, with the July 30-August 2 Olympic golf competition jammed in just two weeks after the British Open, and two weeks before the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

The new season will mark the introduction of random testing of players’ drivers to ensure they are legal. The game’s international governing body, the R&A, tested drivers at the British Open in July and found Xander Schauffele’s to be nonconforming, but the PGA Tour until now has not tested.

Yet to be unveiled by the tour is a new pace-of-play policy, which is being reviewed after complaints about slow play and after a video of DeChambeau taking more than two minutes to line up a putt at a tournament in August went viral.

While world No 1 Brooks Koepka and No 2 McIlroy will have heavy schedules, Woods is again expected to carry a lighter load. He played only three non-majors since winning the Masters in April, and recent knee surgery suggests he will be just as sparing in his appearances in the new season.

Reuters