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Like the PGA and NASCAR, the women's golf tour seeking thrills



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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - See if this sounds familiar.

Setting the stage for the biggest payday in the history of women's golf, the LPGA on Wednesday announced the details of a sweeping new format for the 2006 season, which will include a points race, playoff-style elimination of players and a huge purse at the end of the rainbow.

In other words, close to the notion the PGA Tour co-opted and unveiled earlier this month, several weeks after the LPGA had announced the rudiments of its plan.

"What is it they say?" first-year LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens said. "The most sincere form of flattery is, you copy it-imitation?"

Something like that. The LPGA plan not only is similar to the men's version, it's arguably better and far less radical or risky. Starting next year, the LPGA will culminate its points race at the season-ending ADT Championship at Trump International, site of this week's event.

A total of 32 players will advance to the ADT, which will then pare the field to eight for Sunday's final big-bucks ending.

On the last day of the season, the elite eight will start from scratch and fight it out for a $1 million first prize - the biggest in LPGA history.

Given that Annika Sorenstam is the lone player ever to earn $2 million over an entire season, the magnitude of the purse speaks for itself.

To frame the payday further, 14 of the events on the 2006 LPGA schedule have total purses of $1.2 million or less. In fact, the biggest question raised by players who learned of the plan's details Wednesday was whether the first-place check is out of whack with the paydays at regular events and offers too much of a reward for one good week.

"I think there are a few kinks that might have to be buffed and shined a little bit," said Orlando's Christina Kim, who won last week. "What if the winner started the week at 15th on the money list?"

That player conceivably could leap to No. 1 in final earnings, gaining a point toward induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame under the LPGA's entry requirements. But it certainly will add some late drama to what currently is an otherwise pedestrian end to the season.

"It's an interesting change," Sorenstam said. "Something new, something to look forward to. It's so different I don't really know what to say. I think one shot could make a huge difference."

No question-the runner-up gets $100,000. To qualify for the ADT, the season will be divided into two halves, with 15 players from each period advancing based on total points or by virtue of winning premier tournaments.

As a rule, players will earn points for top-20 finishes. Automatic berths will be awarded to the winners of nine designated events, including the four major championships. Two wild-card spots will be offered to the two highest-finishing players on the final LPGA money list who did not otherwise qualify for the ADT field.

"I like the fact that by the time you get to the last day, you could have some real underdogs in there," Bivens said of the last day of the ADT. "It could be similar to the NCAA Final Four."

Another key provision: Only tour members are eligible to earn points, which means notable teens such as Michelle Wie, 16, and Morgan Pressel, 17, who are professionals but not card-carrying LPGA players because of their age, cannot accrue points until they become official members.

The inaugural Ginn Open, set for April 27-30 at Orlando's Reunion Resort & Club, will feature the second-largest purse on the LPGA schedule. The tournament, which is expected to draw one of the best fields of the year, has been designated as a double-points tournament for qualifying in the ADT.

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(c) 2005, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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