Race for the top 125 on Tour's money list heats up

Davis Love III during Round 3 of the Honda Classic.

Davis Love III during Round 3 of the Honda Classic.

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No fanfare, no nostalgic reminisces, no “circle the date” reminders. But the countdown to the final weeks of the PGA Tour money list as we have known it is certainly under way.

For as long as we have known the PGA Tour, we have measured players’ seasons by where they stood on the money list. Cracking a million dollars meant one thing, surpassing two or three was clearly better, but always it would come down to finishing within the top 125. Starting in 2013, however, the emphasis will shift to being within the top 125 on the FedEx Cup points list.

Apples to apples? In some respects, sure, but cold cash is still an easier concept to grasp than FEC points, which is why some will wrestle with the demise of the money list. Of course, the money itself isn’t going away; it will remain the prize at the end of tournament week that players will wrap their hands around. The banker will accept down payments on the new home in dollars, not in FedEx Cup points, and we expect that those cheesy photos from the winner’s circle will still include the presentation of a cardboard check, not cardboard FEC points.

That being said, the money list as it currently presents itself offers a number of interpretations. Scan it up and down and you are able to pull out any number of observations, some of which follow:

• The name in 104th position is intriguing and not only because he was the recent U.S. Ryder Cup captain. No, Davis Love III invites praise since he is about to finish within the top 125 for a 27th consecutive season. Not sure where that ranks in PGA Tour archives, but it seems to be a notable feat; since his rookie year in 1987, when he finished 77th on the money list, Love has been etched into the final top 125 and if anything you have to hand it to him for remarkable consistency.

For perspective, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were both top-125 guys for 25 consecutive seasons. A better comparison is probably Tom Watson, who like Love also ran off 27 consecutive season inside the top 125, though he had half a season (1971) and six tournaments of prep, something Love never enjoyed.

Then again, Watson can lay claim to five money titles, including four in a row at one point. Love, 48, has never topped the money list, though he finished second once and third twice.

• If he continues to build upon last week’s strong finish at the Frys.com Open, Gary Woodland could avoid the dubious distinction of making the biggest fall-off for one of last year’s top-30 guys.

Heading into this week’s McGladrey Classsic in Sea Island, Ga., Woodland ranks 129th on the money list. Now he doesn’t have to worry about exemption status; he has that through 2013 thanks to winning the Transitions Championship in 2011. But he was 17th on the money list in 2011 so he has spiraled downward 112 spots.

K.J. Choi can commiserate. Fourth on the money list a year ago, he is currently 98th, and Fredrik Jacobson has fallen 73 positions, from 26th to 99th. The next-largest fall? Jason Day, from ninth to 80th.

• Rory Sabbatini is another who has struggled to keep up with his 2011 money-list stature. Having missed the cut or withdrawn in seven consecutive tournaments and eight of his last nine, Sabbatini is 84th on the money list, after having ranked 27th a year ago.

Of course, Sabbatini is indicative of today’s mega-rich tournaments, because the reality is, you can pretty much secure your top-125 status with one good week. To heck with being consistent, Sabbatini finished T-2 at The Memorial Touranment to earn $545,600, which represents nearly half of his season total ($1,106,270).

• For his career you wouldn’t classify Sabbatini a “one-hit” wonder, not when he’s won six times and on five occasions been top 30 on the money list. But he’s one of many who sits where he does on the money list because of one or two good tournaments.

Consider Ted Potter, Jr., the posterboy of one-hitters for 2012. He took in $1,098,000 for winning at Greenbrier; he’s earned $274,548 in his other 22 tournaments.

Consider Harrison Frazar. With $730,203 he’s 114th and in good shape to keep his card, but $608,000 (or 83 percent) came during his two weeks in Hawaii back in January. He finished T-5 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and T-8 at the Sony Open; in 18 tournaments since, Frazar has made just six cuts and earned $122,203.

Consider Jason Kokrak, who vaulted to No. 117th when he finished T-4 last week at Frys to earn $440,000. That’s 61.3 percent of his season total ($717,331) and if you factor in the $153,600 he earned at Pebble Beach back in February, those two tournaments represent 83 percent of his output.

Consider Chad Campbell. No. 112 on the money list with $770, 532, he can thank a T-4 at Wyndham and T-3 at the St. Jude FedEx Classic, which account for $483,733 (or 61 percent) of that total.

Whether it’s good or bad that a player can cash in on one or two good weeks to keep his card is for you to decide. But it’s surely a PGA Tour reality and explains why some players keep plugging along, even if you don’t notice them.

Tim Petrovic, for instance. He had played in just 14 tournaments and made only six cuts, so you had to look all the way to No. 200 to see his name. Then he goes and finishes T-2 at theFrys.com, earns $440,000, and roars into the 132nd position, meaning he can tee it up at McGladrey this week with serious thoughts of pushing into the top 125.

Crazy and too volatile, perhaps, but you can’t say the richness of the sport doesn’t provide for opportunity – assuming you catch it at the right time.

Some other musings as we scan the money list:

• You can’t say Colt Knost wasn’t quick out of the blocks and ditto Mark Wilson. Knost earned $695,006 in his first nine tournaments, so even though he’s made the cut in just three of his last 18 events, he’ll finish in the top 125. At $832,151, Knost ranks 102nd. Wilson made $1,768,342 in his first six tournaments, but has earned only $284,438 in 18 starts since.

• Alex Rocha has made just nine cuts this year, but he’s made two of them good ones. Losing in a playoff at Reno and finishing T-4 at the Frys adds up to $520,875. Toss in the $75,602 he’s made in his other seven cuts and Rocha sits 128th on the money list.

• Don’t tell Will Claxton you don’t like the opposite-field events. They are a huge reason he sits 113th on the money list and will keep his card. Claxton was T-9 at Mayakoba, T-20 in Puerto Rico, and T-5 at the True South – good for a combined $250,175, or nearly a third of the $747,170 he has piled up.

• Robert Allenby’s streak of seasons surpassing at least $1M could stop at 12 unless he does something dramatic. At $801,807, Allenby is 107th on the money list and he hasn’t been worse than 63rd since his second year on tour, in 2000.

• Not sure which is harder to believe – Ryuji Imada will turn 36 Friday or that he sits 184th on the money list. Having earned just $199,793, Imada is in a serious slump, having made but 10 cuts. He has cracked the million-dollar barrier in four of his last seven seasons and his smallest output is $650,221.

• Then again, there are those who prove that one great week can’t carry you forever. Like Arjun Atwal. He earned $918,000 when he won the Wyndham Championship at the end of 2010. In 54 tournaments across the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Atwal, 39, had made just $947,007 and he presently sits 175th on the money list with just a few weeks before his exemption for that Wyndham win expires.

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