Former Georgia Bulldog Harris English tied for 11th Sunday in the PGA Tour stop in Greensboro to move into the top 125 in the FedExCup standings and retain his exempt status for the 2018-19 season.
English also qualified for the FedExCup Playoffs, which begin Thursday in New Jersey. English came into last week’s tournament 132nd in the standings and moved up to 124th, finishing six points ahead of the player who finished 126th.
This is the seventh straight season English has qualified for the Playoffs, but he had to struggle to make it for the second consecutive year. English finished in the top 20 during the regular season in both 2013 and ’14, his second and third seasons on the PGA Tour and placed 42nd and 35th the next two seasons. But he dropped to 114 last year and lost another 10 spots this season.
After missing the cut in all five tournaments he entered during the fall portion of the 2017-18 schedule, English had back-to-back finishes of 11th and eighth in California early in 2018, and tied for fifth in the opposite field event in the Dominican Republic in March.
Prior to his strong showing in Greensboro, English missed 10 of 11 cuts in one stretch, and had only one finish better than 30th in his previous 15 starts.
After scores of 66-65-67, English was in the top 10 going to the final round, and needed to hold his position to move into the top 125. He shot 4-under on the front nine and got as close as three shots to the lead of Brandt Snedeker.
But after making only four bogeys over his first 54 holes, English had four bogeys on his scorecard Sunday, three on his back nine, and had some anxious moments late in the final round. English almost made eagle at the par-5 15th, but three-putted 18 for bogey to leave him no margin for error on the final two holes. He two-putted for par from 60 feet on the 18th to tie for 11th and secure a spot in the Playoffs.
Including English, a native of Valdosta who has settled on St. Simons Island, 21 golfers with Georgia ties will be among the 121 players who tee it up this week in New Jersey. English was one of only two players to move into the top 125 after beginning the week outside the number.
Fellow St. Simons resident Michael Thompson also tied for 11th at 14-under 266, and improved from 158 n the FedExCup standings to 142. By finishing inside the top 150, Thompson secures non-exempt status for the 2018-19 season and will have a chance to be fully exempt if he places in the top 25 in the Web.com Finals series, which begins this week in Columbus, Ohio.
A 63 in Saturday’s third round put Thompson in position for a high finish, and he carded consecutive birdies Sunday on holes 14, 15 and 16 to comfortably move inside the top 150.
Thompson won the Honda Classic during his third season on the tour in 2013, but has not finished in the top 100 in the FedExCup standing since placing 39th in ’13. He has placed between 142 and 148 each of the past four seasons, but regained his exempt status after both the 2015 and ’16 seasons with his strong play in the Web.com Finals.
In 2015 Thompson tied for second in the opening Finals event and placed eighth on the money list for the series, and won the next year in Boise to reclaim his exempt status, finishing second in earnings.
Thompson is one of three players with Georgia ties who played on the PGA Tour this year and will be competing in the Finals along with 10 member sof the 2018 Web.com Tour who either live in Georgia or played their college golf in the state.
Three of the 10 Web.com members for 2018 have already clinched their PGA Tour cards for 2018-19 and will be playing to determine their priority status among the 50 players who qualify through either the Web.com regular season or Finals.
Both Anders Albertson of Woodstock and Georgia Tech and former Georgia Bulldog Joey Garber have already locked up their PGA Tour cards before last week’s Web.com tournament in Portland, Ore. Roberto Castro, like Albertson a former Georgia Tech golfer who grew up and resides in metro Atlanta, began the tournament in 23rd place on the money list, and could easily have dropped out of the top 25.
Castro did not play the previous week in California and fell from 17th on the money list to 23rd. He birdied his final two holes of the second round in Portland to make the cut with one shot to spare, but did not make a move on the weekend and wound up in a tie for 49th, moving up nine spots when he eagled the 72nd hole.
For much of the tournament, Castro was projected to drop out of the top 25, with several players having an opportunity to move past him on the money list. In the end, only one player overtook Castro in earnings by the end of the tournament, and even though he wound up 24th on the money list, Castro finished a relatively comfortable $7,000 ahead of the player who finished 26th.
Castro would still have ended up 24th had he either not played last week or missed the cut, with his birdie-birdie finish on Friday not factoring in his standing, and his 72nd hole eagle of no consequence other than earning him an additional $200.
Of the 25 players who earned their PGA Tour cards for 2018-19, Castro is the most accomplished of the group, having twice qualified for the Tour Championship at East Lake during his six seasons on the PGA Tour. However, he lost his exempt status the following year on both occasions, and was unable to get it back in the Finals last year.
Castro enjoyed an outstanding season, and goes into the Finals as perhaps the most rested player, competing in only 14 of 23 tournaments during the regular season. With two young children at home, Castro elected to play a less hectic schedule than his fellow competitors, never playing more than two weeks in a row.
He will continue that practice in the Finals, skipping this week’s tournament in Columbus. Of the 75 players from the Web.com Tour who qualified for the Finals, he is one of only two not competing this week, with the other player having a full medical extension for the 2018-19 season.
Recent UGA golfer Sepp Straka and former Augusta State standout Henrik Norlander both had chances to break into the top 25 Sunday, but finished 31 and 32 respectively.
Straka, who won a tournament in Kansas City two weeks ago, was 7-under par Sunday after 11 holes and well inside the projected top 25 after beginning the week 30th on the money list. But he played his last seven holes in 5-over when 3-over would have been good enough for him to stay in the top 25.
Norlander, 28 at the start of the week, needed two birdies on his last three holes, but made two bogeys instead, shooting 73 rather than the 69 he needed.
Former UGA golfer Erik Compton had a terrific final round, shooting a 66 to finish third in the tournament and move up from 107 on the money list to 59. Compton, a 38-year-old double heart transplant recipient, was reportedly considering retirement had he not qualified for the Finals, and now has the chance to return to the PGA Tour, where he played from 2012-16.
Atlanta resident Michael Hebert missed the cut in Portland and dropped from 70 on the money list to 77, and will have limited status for next season unless he has a successful return to the late-season qualifying process.
Recent UGA standout Lee McCoy began the week 78th in earnings, and despite making the cut, lost five spots, finishing the season 83rd. He faces the same situation as Hebert. McCoy was the medalist in the finals of qualifying last year.
Former Georgia Open champion Samuel del Val, who played his college golf at Berry, missed the cut in Portland and dropped from 94 on the money list to 101, one spot out of having limited status for the 2019 season. He was just over $300 behind the player who finished 100th.
Joining Albertson, Garber, Castro, Straka, Norlander, Compton and Thompson as eligible for the Finals are Will Wilcox, David Skinns, Billy Kennerly and Seth Reeves from the Web.com Tour and Jonathan Byrd and Cameron Tringale from the PGA Tour.