- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Even as azaleas and dogwoods are blooming, it’s worth noting The Players Championship is six weeks away. That’s how much time the PGA Tour has remaining to put the finishing touches on a major shift in the golf calendar.

Commissioner Jay Monahan has said his goal is to announce the 2018-19 schedule at The Players the second full week in May. That might sound ambitious, but the fall, winter and spring portions of the schedule have come together.

The biggest change is the PGA Championship moving from August to May, with The Players going to March and the FedEx Cup ending on Labor Day right before the start of the NFL season. There remain sponsorship holes to solve in Texas (Houston, Colonial) and a few moving parts with the FedEx St. Jude Classic taking over as a World Golf Championship for Firestone.

The start of 2019 should look familiar - two stops in Hawaii, the California desert, Torrey Pines, Phoenix, Pebble Beach and Riviera. The Mexico Championship would follow Los Angeles. That means the PGA Tour will have an uninterrupted Florida swing again - the Honda Classic, Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Players Championship and the Valspar Championship on March 21-24 (the tournament already has posted its dates).

Then it’s off to Texas for the Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin and the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, which replaces Houston as the pre-Masters stop.

As for the moving parts?

The PGA Championship will be May 16-19 at Bethpage Black in 2019, which is certain to disrupt the Texas swing.

The AT&T; Byron Nelson is likely to precede the PGA Championship and Colonial would be on the other side of the PGA. Houston would get another pre-major spot on the calendar, this time before the U.S. Open. The week before the U.S. Open had belonged to the St. Jude Classic since 2007, but next year it becomes a World Golf Championship and is likely to be played the first weekend in August.

One more piece of the puzzle is a new tournament.

This likely is the final year of The National in the Washington, D.C., area, which dates to 2007 and is run by the Tiger Woods Foundation. The replacement could be either Detroit or Minnesota.

According to three people involved in the discussions, sponsorship is coming together for a new event in Detroit, while the 3M Championship at the TPC Twin Cities (currently a PGA Tour Champions event) wants a spot on the PGA Tour schedule. The people spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the proposals are not finalized.

There’s one other potential wrinkle to the end. The FedEx Cup playoffs will be three tournaments instead of four, and while this is the final year of the playoff event at the TPC Boston (previously Deutsche Bank, currently Dell Technologies Championship), it might not be the end of Boston.

One possibility the tour is exploring is for The Northern Trust to alternate between the New York area (such as Liberty National) and Boston.

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TIGER MOMENTS: Tiger Woods still hasn’t hit a 6-iron over the water and at the pin with the tournament of the line. He hasn’t holed out a wedge from the fairway to rally from seven behind with seven to play.

Those were moments that led his father to say in 2000, “In every tournament, he’ll hit shots that people will be talking about for 30 years.”

Even though he has yet to win, Woods is starting to produce moments that leave fans - and at times other players - talking.

“He hit a couple of really impressive 3-woods into 9 at the Bahamas,” said Justin Thomas, who watched from the group behind as Woods hit a cut from 265 yards into the wind to about 25 feet for eagle.

His last two tournaments before the Masters offered a collection of shots that gave fans something to talk about.

In the Valspar Championship, Woods hit a cut 5-iron that grazed the side of the cup on the par-3 17th in the opening round. He chipped in from behind the green at No. 9 on Saturday to share the lead. And he holed a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th in the final round to get within one shot.

Bay Hill was just as good.

Woods made a 70-foot birdie putt across the seventh green in the opening round. On consecutive days at the par-5 16th, when it looked as though Woods should lay up short of the water, he hit 5-iron from an awkward lie in deep rough and 5-iron from near the lip of the bunker.

And on Sunday, one of the loudest cheers was for his second shot to the par-5 sixth that rolled by the cup and settled 12 feet away.

He missed the eagle putt, but even that showed what kind of attraction Woods is.

The television was on loudly in a couple of the houses lining the fourth fairway, some 600 yards away from the green. Woods missed the putt and the collective groan was noticeable on No. 4. Moments later, more groaning from some of the homeowners watching. And a few seconds later, another groan from a TV that was slightly behind.

He’s not winning yet. But he already has them talking.

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EVERY SHOT MATTERS: Five of the matches to end group play at the Dell Technologies Match Play had no bearing, which is not to suggest they were meaningless. Gary Woodland’s 1-up victory over Pat Perez was the difference of 21 FedEx Cup points. Patton Kizzire and Luke List each were eliminated by losing the opening two matches, and Kizzire beating him was the difference of 10 points.

That doesn’t sound like much except that one point separated Louis Oosthuizen last year and Rickie Fowler in 2016 from getting to the Tour Championship.

Alex Noren picked up an additional 7.4 world ranking points for winning the consolation match. Might that come in handy for Ryder Cup qualifying this summer? Maybe.

And then there’s Paul Casey, who had his own memory of getting something when it looked as though nothing was at stake.

“I remember one year in Switzerland, I went out first, one guy in front of us. I shot 64,” Casey recalled. “The wind picked up, I finished top 10. I won a watch for low round of the week, and I got a kiss from Cindy Crawford because she presented it. It was a great Sunday. See, there’s always something to come out of a Sunday.”

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DIVOTS: Julian Suri led the four Monday qualifiers for the Houston Open with a 64. This was three days after he took Bubba Watson to the 18th hole in Match Play, missing an 8-foot putt on the 17th hole to win the match that would have forced a sudden-death playoff. … Only 18 players in the 144-man field at the Houston already are eligible for the Masters. … Ten players have won the last 10 majors on the LPGA Tour going into the ANA Inspiration. …

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STAT OF THE WEEK: For the first time since the Dell Technologies Match Play switched to pool play, no player losing in the first round won his group.

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FINAL WORD: “If I was the man, I’d be in the fairway.” - Bubba Watson, preparing to hit from the rough to a fan who called out to him, “You’re the man!”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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