(Reuters) - It is only 16 days since Rory McIlroy was crowned FedEx Cup champion but players are already gearing up for the new U.S. PGA Tour season with the opening event, the Greenbrier Classic, kicking off 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 between now and late November as part of the so-called ‘wraparound’ season.
World number 10 Bryson DeChambeau heads the field in West Virginia, while the spotlight will also be on 2018 U.S. amateur champion Viktor Hovland as the Norwegian makes his debut as a Tour member after a series of impressive results since turning pro in June.
The event will be followed by four more in the United States 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 Dec. 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 through late August there is a top event pretty much every other week, with the July 30-Aug. 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 also 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 non-conforming, 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 following 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 number one Brooks Koepka and number two McIlroy will have heavy schedules Woods is again expected to again 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.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford