NEW YORK (AP) _ Perhaps it is coincidental that the Federal Trade Commission investigation into the PGA Tour is heating up at the same time the World Golf Tour is talking about staging conflicting events.

Coincidence or not, PGA commissioner Tim Finchem wants to get the matter behind him.

``I suppose it could have been, I suppose it might have been,'' Finchem said Thursday when asked who was behind the FTC investigation. ``But it really doesn't matter. They got some lawyers over there who think we use the rules in a restrictive manner.''

The FTC will decide next month whether to issue a complaint against the PGA Tour over two rules crucial to its structure.

At issue are the conflicting event rule and the television release rule. The first states that no PGA Tour member can play in a tournament that conflicts with a tour event without the commissioner's approval. The second rule requires the same approval for TV appearances.

``We use the rules to some degree to maintain the allure of the sport to our sponsors and the networks,'' Finchem said. ``Without these rules, we cannot maintain the kind of structure we have.''

What that structure has done is increase prize money more than 400 percent over the last decade, nearly double tour membership from 376 to 743 and increase TV exposure of golf from 168.5 hours in 1985 to 613.5 in 1994 and an estimated 1,000 hours this year.

``Over the last four years there has been a gradual increase in the concern we hear from sponsors and networks about signing contracts based on the rules that are now under investigation,'' Finchem said. ``We are doing well, but this investigation has made it more difficult. We are always in the position of convincing potential sponsors that we will win.''

The sponsors can be reassured by the fact that whatever happens could be years away. If a complaint is issued, the matter goes to an administrative law judge. If, after maybe a year of testimony, the judge upholds the complaint and the full FTC agrees, ``then we'd go to court,'' Finchem said. And that could take years.

But the PGA Tour may take another step before it gets that far.

``If they issue the complaint, we are seriously considering asking Congress to review that,'' Finchem said in a telephone interview.

The ruling will come after Finchem meets individually with FTC commissioners during the first two weeks of February.

``If these powers are taken away from us, golf will become a promoter-driven sport, like boxing and tennis, and the dollar value would drop,'' Finchem said.

Finchem, who has said he will use the conflicting event rule to penalize PGA Tour members who participate in World Tour events scheduled against tour tournaments, says he has gotten virtually no pressure from tour members to change the rules.

``The players who have prospered on our tour feel a loyalty to our events and they simply were not going to step on those events for a quick buck,'' Finchem said about the failure of players to rush to embrace the World Golf Tour.

``I didn't have one player other than Greg Norman call me and say, `Tim, I think we ought to think again about these rules.'''

Norman appeared at the news conference annoucing the creation of the World Golf Tour and is among those who have critcized the PGA Tour for its restrictions on foreign players.

The World Tour has proposed having six to eight tournaments a year limited to a select 40 players, with last-place finishers guaranteed $30,000.

``If we played 50 or 40 golfers a week we could generate just as much money as we do now,'' Finchem said. ``But we have 144 to 156 players every week. That system has worked well to help the game grow.''

Now Finchem and the PGA Tour will find out how much of that system they will be allowed to keep.