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Fall ball

This may come as a surprise to anyone with a cable provider that carries Golf Channel or a pgatour.com bookmark, but contrary to the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., hype machine, the season doesn’t end on Sunday at East Lake. Although, to hear some media types, as well as some players, lament the onset of the circuit’s inaugural playoff run it seems the world may be ending.

Myth busting.

• There is grass at East Lake, site of this week’s Tour Championship.

• There is excitement among players, if not fans, stirred by the FedEx Cup finish. The Tour’s primary objective, to bring the top players together more often, is working (consider that the last time Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were both in the same Tour Championship field was 2004 and the last time the event seemed relevant was Woods’ last year at Stanford).

• There is still plenty of golf left on the Tour docket, just not the kind that will include the likes of Woods or Mickelson.

No, the season will not end when NBC signs off Sunday evening. Nor have all the interesting twists and turns been negotiated. At least that’s the feel if one listens to the players who would have played those events with or without the new big finish.

Next week’s Turning Stone Resort Championship, an event that stepped in last year for the washed out B.C. Open that has the largest purse ($6 million) of the Tour’s seven post-Tour Championship offerings, will likely see little difference in field quality compared to last season.

While in theory, any player within the top 70 or so in earnings (yes, the money list still counts for some things) will safely keep their Tour cards for 2008, exemptions into the Masters (top 30 in earnings) as well as other season-ending benchmarks – including many endorsement contracts that are often based on a player’s previous year finish – will be decided over the next few quiet weeks.

For many players, shutting it down for three months is not an option.

“I think some of the guys are going to take four months off. If they are in the top 30, why wouldn’t they?” said Lucas Glover, a U.S. Presidents Cup player who plans to play three of the fall events (Frys.com Open, Ginn sur Mer Classic at Tesoro and Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Walt Disney World). “I couldn’t take that long off myself. I’d kill myself with boredom.”

Most players polled said they would play at least two or three of the Fall Series events, adding a measure of marquee to a lineup many thought would be little more than an extended Q-School.

Like Glover, Tim Clark – the first-round leader at East Lake – said he’d play three fall events (Fry’s Electronics Open, Ginn sur Mer Classic and Disney), while Charles Warren (No. 94 in earnings) said he’d likely play at least four of the remaining outings, including next week at Turning Stone.

On top of the normal assortment of Tour regulars who sat out the last two or three weeks of the playoffs, the New York event will also attract one of next season’s top rookie prospects in Australian Nick Flanagan.

Flanagan earned a “battlefield promotion” to the Tour with his three victories on the Nationwide circuit this year and plans to play at least six of the seven Fall Series events. His only miss will likely be the Disney stop, which would allow him to play the Nationwide finale the same week in California.

The following week, another up-and-comer will make his pro debut on Tour. Chris Kirk, who went 1-1-0 last week for the victorious U.S. Walker Cup team in Northern Ireland, landed one of the coveted sponsor exemptions in the Viking (formerly Southern Farm Bureau) Classic.

Of course, one of the intended purposes of the shorter season was to allow players a chance to set out overseas in pursuit of guaranteed appearance fees or a chance to pad their World Ranking.

Brandt Snedeker, who is 13th in earnings and likely a lock to claim Rookie of the Year honors, will play two events in Australia and two in Japan this fall, which will limit his Tour stops.

Similarly, Arron Oberholser, who withdrew from last week’s BMW Championship with hand and wrist injuries, plans to play just one fall event (Fry’s Electronics Open in Scottsdale) before heading to Japan for a tournament and then wrapping up his season at the World Cup in China, where he’ll team with Sean O’Hair.

For some players, 2007 may end on Sunday in Atlanta. But luckily for the rest of us, there is still meaningful golf to be played.

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