Making some sense of new PGA Tour qualifying
>The bright lights will shine on the Statue of Liberty, the backdrop to this week's Barclays and the first FedEx Cup playoff event to end the PGA Tour season. Meanwhile, in Omaha, Neb., the final regular-season Web.com Tour event takes place, with the top 25 on the final money list securing their PGA Tour cards.
If the various projections and permutations of the FedEx Cup make your head spin, don't forget about the new Web.com Tour Finals, which begin next week and, in essence, take the place of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament (Q-school) -- at least as we knew it.
When the tour decided to go to a wrap-around schedule starting with the 2013-14 season, it came up with a controversial plan to determine exempt status:
Those among the top 125 in FedEx points (or, this year only, in PGA Tour earnings) would be exempt.
Anyone from 126 to 200, instead of going to Q-school, would take part in a four-tournament series known as the Web.com Tour Finals. They will be joined by the top 75 from the Web.com money list -- although the top 25 through this weeks Cox Classic are assured of playing on the PGA Tour next year.
Among prominent players faced with having to play in the Web.com Tour Finals to get their PGA Tour card for 2013-14 are 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman, Ryo Ishikawa, Robert Karlsson, Sean O'Hair and Robert Allenby -- who also could use his one-time exemption for being among the top 25 all-time money winners (there is another if you are top 50).
That means there will be 25 tour cards up for grabs, much as there were at the old Q-school. But instead of a series of qualifying tournaments that ended with a six-day, 108-hole marathon, there is a four-tournament series, with each tournament offering a $1 million purse.
Players start at $0, and the top 25 in cumulative earnings through the four events get a 2013-14 PGA Tour card -- in addition to those who earned cards by their finish on the Web.com money list.
For those who finished among the top 25 in money earnings on the Web.com Tour, the Finals are not just a money grab; how they finish in the four tournaments will determine their priority ranking for getting into PGA Tour events in 2013-14.
The four events, beginning next week, are: the Hotel Fitness Championship (Aug. 29-Sept 1); Chiquita Championship (Sept. 5-8); Nationwide Childrens Hospital (Sept. 12-15) and the Web.com Tour Championship (Sept. 26-29), which is played at the Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass.
The fields will be approximately 144 players, with a 36-hole cut and the winner receiving $180,000. Obviously, winning one of these tournaments all but assures a top-25 standing among those competing and a PGA Tour card for the next season, although there is still incentive to compete for the highest priority ranking.
As in the past, 50 players emerge with tour cards, just as they did from the old Q-school format.
There has been considerable consternation over the demise of Q-school, although it is not going away. It will simply feed players to the Web.com Tour instead of the PGA Tour and will still be played late in the year. (That is why the tour sought a change; the new PGA Tour season begins in early October, leaving little time for a full Q-school.)
True, that means players who sign up for Q-school do not have a direct avenue to the PGA Tour as they once did. (They would qualify for the Web.com Tour, from which a top-25 money finish gets you a card, or a top-75 finish gets you a chance to play for a card.)
However, there are still ways to get it done, as Jordan Spieth proved this year. He began the year with no status on any tour but now finds himself eighth in the FedEx Cup standings. He made the most of his opportunities, with a couple of early top-10s in events in which he got sponsor exemptions, parlaying that into special temporary member status, then full status when he won the John Deere Classic.
It's a lot to ask for a player to win a tournament, but Spieth proved you can get a tour card without the Web.com route -- one of the biggest knocks on the new system.
So, although it has its flaws, competing in four tournaments with nice prize money for those who qualify seems a much better way to go about getting a card than the crapshoot that is Q-school.
All of this is new, of course, cramming a ton of golf into the next month for those competing for the big money and those hoping to do so a year from now.
The plunge of Padraig Harrington
For the first time since the inception of the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2007, Padraig Harrington will not be part of the series. In fact, were it not for a one-year alteration to the new FedEx Cup rules, he would not even be a fully exempt player on the PGA Tour in 2013-14.
Going forward, finishing among the top 125 in FedEx Cup points determines your status. Those who are in the top 125 make the playoffs and are exempt for the next year; those who finish outside the top 125 are relegated to the Web.com Tour Finals -- unless they are exempt in some other fashion, such as having won a tournament in the past two years.
Harrington will be exempt because he finished 113th on the PGA Tour money list. Because of the shortened schedule this year, those among the top 125 in money are also exempt. It's a one-year deal. So, Harrington is spared the indignity of having to fight for his card.
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It's been an amazing fall for the Irishman, a three-time major winner who has not won since his 2008 PGA Championship victory at Oakland Hills. His five-year PGA Tour exemption for winning has expired and his last-ditch attempt at qualifying for the playoffs ended last week with a missed cut in Greensboro.
Harrington, who turns 42 on Aug. 31, will head back to the European Tour next week for the Wales Open, the first qualifying event for the European Ryder Cup team. Harrington has more pressing things on his mind, such as improving his world ranking.
Now at 85th, Harrington had sunk into the 90s last year before climbing as high as 47th earlier this spring. But since a tie for ninth in Phoenix, Harrington has done no better in a PGA Tour event than two ties for 10th. He tied for sixth at a tournament in Malaysia, but has missed seven cuts worldwide since.
1. European Solheim Cup team. Six rookies proved to be no detriment at all, as the Europeans cruised to a blowout 18-10 victory, the biggest in the competition's history.
2. Patrick Reed. With his wife as his caddie, Reed -- who made a habit of Monday qualifying last year -- got his first PGA Tour victory, and did it against Jordan Spieth, who nearly won for the second time this season.
3. Matt Fitzpatrick. The first Englishman to win the U.S. Amateur since Harold Hilton in 1911, Fitzpatrick set himself up for a nice 2014 with expected invites to the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship.
1. The U.S. Solheim Cup team. It's one thing to lose, quite another to get crushed. The Americans had experience and home course on their side yet were out of it by Saturday afternoon.
2. Padraig Harrington. The Irishman missed his third straight cut and will miss the FedEx Cup playoffs for the first time.
3. Caddie races. The PGA Tour is doing away with them at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Colonial, events that put a little fun into the festivities. It just seems the tour has bigger problems than this.
Presidents Cup watch
Just two events remain to automatically qualify for one of the 10 spots on the U.S. and International Presidents Cup teams, with the captains to make their two at-large selections Sept. 4. As it stands, U.S. captain Fred Couples could have some tough decisions.
Zach Johnson moved up to ninth and Webb Simpson moved into the top 10 after the Wyndham Championship, bumping out Steve Stricker who is not playing this week at the Barclays. Others outside of the top 10 all of whom played for the U.S. last year at the Ryder Cup are Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson.
And then there is Jordan Spieth, who deserves consideration given the way he has played the past two months, winning the John Deere Classic in a playoff before losing in a playoff Sunday at the Wyndham. Couples could do worse than to pick Spieth, giving a potential future U.S. star some experience in a team competition.
Tiger Woods takes a big lead into the first FedEx Cup playoff event at the Barclays, the largest since the points system was tweaked in 2010. But it won't matter that much as points are now quintupled from regular events. Instead of getting 500 points for a victory, winners of playoff events get 2,500. ... The points are reset after the BMW Championship so that everyone in the top 30 at the Tour Championship has a mathematical chance of winning the FedEx Cup, with the top five assured of the FedEx Cup title if they win the Tour Championship. ... For the first time since the FedEx Cup playoffs began in 2007, no player moved into the top 125 -- thus qualifying for the playoffs -- at the season-ending Wyndham Championship. ... Jordan Spieth was attempting to become the youngest player ever to have two PGA Tour victories. He recently turned 20. ... Patrick Reed's victory with wife Justine caddying for him was the first by a player with his wife on the bag since Steve Stricker won the 1996 Western Open with wife Nicki caddying. ... Davis Love III saw a streak of 27 consecutive years inside the top 100 on the money list snapped when he missed the cut at the Wyndham Championship. Love, who turns 50 next year, is a life member of the PGA Tour thanks to his 20 victories. ... Bart Bryant became the 1,000th winner in the history of the Champions Tour with his win at the Dick's Sporting Goods Open. Dan January, who won the first event in 1980, was on hand.
"It was the best shot of my life." -- Patrick Reed after his shot on the second playoff hole set up his winning birdie putt at the Wyndham Championship on Sunday.