With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, some PGA Tour members are scrambling to qualify for the Playoffs, which begin August 8 at Liberty National in Jersey City, N.J., and conclude with the Tour Championship at East Lake August 22-25.
The Playoffs events preceding the Tour Championship have been reduced from three to two, with the tournament in Boston eliminated and the one in Chicago remaining between New York and Atlanta. The format for determining the FedExCup champion has been significantly altered, but that won’t come into play until the players complete the first two Playoffs events.
At this stage of the season, the focus is more on which players will qualify for the Playoffs and which players will have to compete in what was previously known as the Web.com Finals (now the KF Finals for those of us in the non-corporate golf media) to retain their exempt status for the 2019-20 season, which begins at the Greenbrier in mid-September.
The two numbers to pay attention to over the next two weeks are 125 and 150. The top 125 qualify for the Playoffs and will be fully exempt for the 2019-20 season. The top 150 will have limited status for next season, but will get a minimum of a dozen starts and possibly many more depending on how well they play and their ability to secure sponsor exemptions.
Among the players in the 126-150 category in 2018-19 are Jim Furyk, who has returned to the top 50 in the World Rankings, tournament winners Graeme McDowell and Corey Conners, and last week’s British Open champion Shane Lowry. Players between 126 and 150 on the points list following the final regular season stop in Greensboro can also compete in the KF Finals, which also consists of three tournaments beginning August 15 in Columbus, Ohio.
Those between 151 and 200 will play in the KF Finals along with players ranked 26-75 on this year’s KF Tour, which began under the title sponsorship of Web.com. The top 25 from the Finals will join the top 25 in the regular season on the 2019-20 PGA Tour.
With the 2018-19 PGA Tour schedule down to a handful of events, there a number of Georgians uncomfortably close to both the 126 and 150 positions on the FedExCup points list.
Here is a list of the Georgians on the PGA Tour, with brief reviews of their play in 2018-19 and their FedExCup positions coming into this week’s tournaments in Memphis and Reno.
Matt Kuchar, 2 (Georgia Tech/St. Simons resident): After leading the standings for almost all of 2018-19, Kuchar was passed last week by Brooks Koepka, but is only 37 points behind. (Kuchar has accumulated 2,300 points.) Kuchar has a pair of runner-up finishes among six top 10s since winning early in Mexico and Hawaii, and has enjoyed a consistently successful season. He ranks fifth in greens in regulation and sixth in scoring, as he has rebounded nicely from his poorest season in a decade in 2017-18.
Charles Howell, 14 (Augusta native): After some outstanding play late in 2018 (RSM Classic victory) and early 2019, has had some so-results for most of this year, but recorded a recent T6 in the John Deere. Ranks third in GIR and seventh in Strokes Gained around the green, and has also enjoyed a solid year with the putter. Will need a big week in Greensboro to earn a top-10 bonus, but seems assured of a spot in the Tour Championship field, which will earn him a return to the 2020 Masters.
Kevin Kisner, 21 (UGA): His victory over Kuchar in the WGC Match Play finals is his lone highlight of the season, but he has played steady golf with just three missed cuts. A lack of distance and sub-standard short game has not prevented him from achieving top 30 status in the World Rankings.
Kevin Mitchell, 35 (UGA/St. Simons): Emerged early in his sophomore season with a win in the Honda Classic followed the next week by a T6 at Bay Hill. A T8 in Charlotte is his only finish of note since, but is still in position to make it to East Lake. Ranks sixth in Strokes Gained off the tee, but his short game and putting stats could use improvement.
Patrick Reed, 54 (Augusta State): Has played well since the U.S. Open with a tie for fifth in Detroit and a 10th place showing last week at Royal Portrush. 2018 Masters champion sports a strong short game, but the rest of his stats are pretty ordinary, hence his position outside the top 30.
Vaughn Taylor, 60 (Augusta native/Augusta State): Veteran has enjoyed a strong season with recent finishes of fourth in Hartford and sixth in the John Deere. One of the shorter hitters on the PGA Tour (185 in distance), but ranks sixth in Strokes Gained putting.
Chesson Hadley, 72 (Georgia Tech): After a pair of top finishes in the Fall, has not played well in 2019 outer than an out-of-nowhere T9 in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Has missed nine of his last 11 cuts and is a distant 160th in scoring average.
Michael Thompson, 73 (St. Simons): Collected three of his four 2019 top 10s early in the year in California, but has had only a handful of strong showings since. Accurate driving and quality putting has overcome below average approach game.
J.T. Poston, 78 (St. Simons): Gradually improving third-year pro has shown the ability to go low on vulnerable courses, with recent scores of 63 in Detroit and 62 last week in Kentucky. Best finish of the year was a T6 in Hilton Head.
Luke List, 80 (Augusta resident): Had a pair of T4s in the Fall, but has done little in 2019 other than a T6 in the PGA at Bethpage Black, missing a 2020 Masters invite by a shot after a final round 74. Big hitter (second in driving distance), struggles to hit fairways or make putts, and has missed last five cuts since PGA.
Bubba Watson, 83 (UGA): Ranks second in Strokes Gained off the tee, but after a pair of T4s in Phoenix and Tampa and a T12 in the Masters, has not posted a top-50 finish. Won three times at the age of 39 in 2018, but results have not been nearly as impressive since he turned 40 late last year.
Russell Henley, 87 (Macon native/UGA): Saved his season with a final round 61 in the John Deere to finish second after starting the week 165th in the standings. Other than his runner-up showing hasn’t been the player who won three times in his first six seasons, mostly due to uncharacteristically poor putting stats.
Cameron Tringale, 98 (Georgia Tech): Has played well since April, advancing more than 85 spots on the points list with a series of solid finishes. Ranks 12th in GIR and 20th in birdies, leading to recent success including a T5 in Detroit. Nice bounce back year after awful 2017-18.
Scott Brown, 101 (Augusta native): Has four top 10s including a T5 in New Orleans team event with Aiken, S.C., neighbor Kisner. Has a tendency to start faster than he finishes, but has earned eighth season on tour and is about to surpass $1 million in earnings for seventh straight year.
Brian Harman, 102 (Savannah native/UGA/St. Simons): Not having one of his better seasons, but has overcome a stretch of 11 missed cuts in 15 starts to begin 2019. Since then he’s posted top 10s in Hartford and Minnesota and gained 40 spots in the FedExCup standings. Harman is 35th in fairways hit but just 176 in GIR.
Sepp Straka, 119 (Valdosta/UGA): It’s been an up and down rookie season for the Austrian native, who has moved up 45 spots on the points list since a strong showing in the U.S, Open. Straka has played seven straight weeks, including a tie for 11th in Detroit and a third place finish last week in Kentucky. The only weak spot statistically is his short game, with Straka ranking in the top 25 in driving distance and GIR and the top 15 in birdies.
Richy Werenski, 124 (Georgia Tech): After a few strong showings in the Fall, Werenski has not played especially well in 2019, with a T24 last week in the opposite field event in Kentucky his only top 35 this year. Werenski finished 108 and 101 in his first two PGA Tour seasons, and will need a productive effort either this week or next to earn a fourth season.
Patton Kizzire, 125 (St. Simons): Kizzire comes into this week as the bubble boy, but thanks to a pair of wins in the 2017-18 season is exempt through 2020-21. Kizzire played well in the two tournaments in Hawaii at the outset of 2019 and has top-20 finishes in the two Georgia events outside Atlanta, but otherwise has played poorly after qualifying for East Lake last year. He has missed seven of his last eight cuts.
Robert Castro, 135 (Alpharetta/Georgia Tech): He tied for fifth last Fall in Mississippi and teamed with former teammate Tringale for a T5 in New Orleans, but he hasn’t been able to put together another top finish despite a recent run of solid play. Castro is 45-under his last four starts, and has shot 70 or better his last 12 rounds in succession, but has made little advancement in the standings. He is banking on a big finish next week in Greensboro.
Harris English, 148 (Valdosta native/UGA/St. Simons): After four years between 17 and 42 on the points list, English has been outside the top 100 the last three seasons, and could drop out of the top 150 without a solid finish. He has three finishes between 20th and 25th this season, but otherwise it’s been a lot of made cuts and unproductive weekends. English has enjoyed an excellent season statistically on the greens (12th in putting), but is a disappointing 182nd in Strokes Gained approaches.
Zach Johnson, 150 (St. Simons) Like Kizzire, Johnson does not have to worry about his low standing on the points list, as he has one more year remaining on his exempt status for winning the 2015 British Open. He ranks near the bottom in GIR and is outside the top 100 in putting, resulting in a lack of birdies. His only decent finishes came close to home in the RSM Classic (T7) and Hilton Head (T16).
Jonathan Byrd, 153 (St. Simons): Has not been the same player since undergoing wrist surgery in 2013, and has played only one full season on the PGA Tour since 2015. Has enjoyed a respectable season as a non-exempt player despite ranking near the bottom in Strokes Gained off the tee and is outside the top 160 in putting.
Hudson Swafford, 155 (UGA/St. Simons): After winning in the California desert in 2017, is outside the top 150 for a second straight season, but should have a limited medical extension for 2019-20. Has not played since early June after missing five straight cuts. Began 2019 with a tie for third in Hawaii and was 101 on the points list following a solid showing in Hilton Head.
Joey Garber, 163 (UGA/St. Simons): Was outside the top 200 in his rookie season as of early May before three top 30 finishes in his next four starts and a tie for seventh in Minnesota. Reached as high as 155 on the points list before losing eight spots the last two weeks.
Anders Albertson, 165 (Woodstock/Georgia Tech): Was 50th in the FedExCup at the end of the Fall after a strong start to his rookie season highlighted by a T5 in Mississippi. But 2019 was a series of missed cuts and MDFs until he tied for 18th last week in Kentucky, going 72 holes for just the second time since his first start of the year. A hole-in-one on the ninth hole Sunday jumped him into the top 10 and capped a 6-under stretch for six holes, but four bogeys on the back nine stalled his charge up the leader board.
Stewart Cink, 176 (Georgia Tech/Duluth): A bad back sidelined him for two months in May and June, and he will likely begin 2019-20 on either a medical extension or possibly a one-year exemption based on his standing on the career money list. Has a pair of T20 finishes, including last week’s British Open, the 10th anniversary of his 2009 triumph at Turnberry.
Ollie Schniederjans, 179 (Powder Springs/Georgia Tech): This has been a surprisingly dismal third season for a player billed as a can’t-miss prospect. He enjoyed an excellent rookie season and followed with a decent sophomore showing before a wayward driver and an ineffective iron game has caught up with him. A tie for 16th in the Players is his lone highlight in 2018-19, and he has missed 17 of 28 cuts, including seven of his last eight.
Brendon Todd, 184 (UGA/Watkinsville): Todd’s rollercoaster career is on a bit of an upswing with three top 25 finishes in just 10 starts, including a pair of T18s in Charlotte and the John Deere. Has made more cuts this season (six) than he did the previous three years in 44 attempts and will have the chance to regain his exempt status in the KF Finals.
Seth Reeves, 186 (Duluth native/Georgia Tech): Tied for seventh last Fall in Mississippi, but began 2019 with 10 missed cuts in 11 starts, and his only finish better than 50th this year was a T18 in the opposite field event in the Dominican Republic. Ranks seventh on the PGA Tour in driving distance, but his other stats match his FedExCup standing.
Davis Love, 191 (St. Simons): Opened 2019 with a tie for seventh in Hawaii but has made only five starts since, none after April. With a lifetime membership on the PGA Tour, the 2017 inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame can continue playing the PGA Tour when healthy, but has been hampered by injuries in recent years.
Chris Kirk, 196 (Woodstock native/UGA/Athens): After eight straight solid seasons on the PGA Tour with four victories, Kirk was suffering through his first unproductive season when he announced in early May that he was taking a leave of absence from the game to deal with alcohol issues and depression. He was 177 on the points list at the time and has dropped another 20 spots since.
Tiger Woods, who won last year’s Tour Championship as well as the 2019 Masters, is currently 26th and may be outside the top 30 by the time the Playoffs start. Both he and fellow two-time Tour Championship winner Phil Mickelson (32) will need to play well in the upcoming weeks to make it to East Lake.