McCabe: Observations from 2011 money list

Ernie Els during the Wyndham Championship.

Ernie Els during the Wyndham Championship.

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With its 2011 schedule having stretched into an 11th month – or, approximately five times longer than the Kim Kardashian-Kris Humphries marriage – the PGA Tour will prepare for a brief hiatus, but not until after it competes one more time, in Shanghai, of all places.

Now if you’re confused, thinking that the tournament at Disney a week ago was the season finale, well, you’re partly correct.

That brought the curtain down on official money.

This week’s tournament, the HSBC Champions, is the fifth World Golf Championship of the season, and while the money isn’t official, a victory would be. You might be thinking, “Hey, that’s sort of the opposite of Riviera in 2005, when Adam Scott’s triumph was official money, but not an official win,” and you’re right, but what fun would life be without a bit of confusion.

Anyway, what awaits the field of 78 at Sheshan International GC are barrels of yuans. But, of course, no matter how many yuans are won, the official money column is final for 2011, and that sets us up for a look at some of the many financial storylines.

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Some snapshots of the 2011 money list

• For an 18th consecutive year, Ernie Els finished within the top 125. The thing is, he finished 93rd ($948,872) after having never been worse than 47th in his career. Crazy, but just one year earlier, Els had set a personal best with $4,558,861. That means he took a whopping $3,609,989 cut in on-course pay.

• At 101st, Stewart Cink had his worst money-list finish. He had never ranked lower than 73rd in his previous 13 seasons. Cink missed the cut in eight tournaments, the most in a season since he missed 12 as a rookie in 1997.

• Kevin Stadler was 111th, the fourth time he’s finished within the top 125. But his best finish is 97th.

• Like Els, his compatriot from South Africa, Retief Goosen – 108th on the money list – had a forgettable season. He made just $796,360, after having made at least $1M in each of his first 10 PGA Tour seasons.

• Finishing 124th doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that Rod Pampling played via one of the toughest routes – past champion is category No. 29 out of a possible 33 – it’s a noteworthy feat.

• Charles Howell III sat within the top 125 for a 10th consecutive year, but only for the fourth time did he make it into the top 30.

• Steve Stricker’s sixth straight sterling season saw him finish eighth on the money list. He also moved to ninth on the career money list, but clearly it’s been a tale of two stages. In his first 12 seasons, Stricker totaled $8,230,692; in his last six he’s earned a whopping $23,428,848.

• No wonder he loves playing in the U.S., because Luke Donald’s PGA Tour career number is at $25,348,410. His European Tour total is $16,525,902.

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Nine a side

It’s an annual argument that really seems fruitless. We’re talking about whether it’s better to come onto the PGA Tour through Q-School or the Nationwide Tour. The numbers this year support the viewpoint that neither route is definitively better, because of those who finished in the top 125, nine were from Q-School, nine from the Nationwide Tour.

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Recession proof?

Not only did Matt Kuchar establish a record for most money earned without a victory ($4,233,920), but so, too, did Jason Day ($3,962,647) surpass what had been the benchmark in this category. In all, 13 players made at least $2M without a victory, but don’t be overly impressed by that figure. In 2008 and 2009, 15 players took home $2M or more without winning.

• • • 

Recession proof II?

The number of players who earned at least $2M reached 37 for the third time in four seasons. In 2009, that number was 38.

Go back just to the year 2000 and only 15 players reached $2M in a season.

• • • 

From the Go Figure Dept.

John Merrick made 23 cuts in 2010, but finished 140th on the money list; in 2011, he made 15 cuts but landed at No. 119 on the money list.

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Doing the bulk of his work in short time

Jhonattan Vegas earned $1,854,414 to come in at No. 46 on the money list. He earned 75 percent of it ($1,385,560) at three tournaments – a win at the Bob Hope Classic, T-3 at the Farmers Insurance Classic, T-5 in Las Vegas – and made just $468,854 in his other 22 starts.

• • • 

He travels well

Bo Van Pelt has secured at least a share of the lead at five tournaments, four of them beyond the continental U.S. – this weekend in Malaysia, earlier this year in Canada, in Mexico in 2009 and 2008 in Puerto Rico. His only 54-hole lead on U.S. soil came at the Shell Houston Open, in 2009.

Van Pelt, of course, held on and won in Malaysia, just the first time he has cashed in on the 54-hole lead.

• • • 

Emerging market, fledgling talent

It’s the new frontier, so far as world-class golfers are concerned. We’re talking about Asia, and specifically China. There was a whopping $5 million up for grabs at the Shanghai Masters (which doesn’t include another pile of millions in appearance fees), while $6.1 million was in the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic Malaysia purse.

While that sort of cash was a big lure for the world’s greatest players to travel from the United States, Europe and Australia, tournament backers understandably held back a few spots for home players: eight in Shanghai, 12 in Malaysia.

Clearly lacking in the skill level to match their foreign visitors, the local contingents struggled. In Shanghai, only nine of the 30 players failed to break par, and eight of them were the Chinese players. In Malaysia, 12 of the 48 players were there because of their ties to the Asian Tour, and six of them finished T-35 or worse.

Still, player manager Andrew “Chubby” Chandler has seen enough of the landscape in China and Asia to predict that American and European players had better enjoy things now, saying of the Chinese, “because when they learn how to play, they’re going to be the best.”

• • • 

The smaller, the better for him

Ian Poulter’s three biggest paychecks of the year came at small, intimate gatherings: $802,390 for winning the Volvo World Match Play (field size: 24), $201,000 for being sixth at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions (34) and $150,000 for finishing sixth at the Shanghai Masters (30).

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