Notes: Packed Phoenix field; Day beats cold; more
As if it weren’t confusing enough, what with 10 players having at least a share of the lead during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open, the traffic jam for those who finished top 10 was quite a jumbled post-tournament storyline, too.
It’s been part of the PGA Tour landscape for years that those who finish top 10 earn spots, if they're not already qualified, into the following week’s tournament (excluding majors, WGCs and invitationals). But quite often we’re talking one or two names, not the seven who worked their way into the top 10 at the Farmers.
Two of those seven – Will MacKenzie and Seung-Yul Noh – did not commit to the Waste Management Phoenix Open, so they weren’t factored into the overflow. But the other five – Ryo Ishikawa, Justin Thomas, Trevor Immelman, Russell Knox and Brad Fritsch – committed, only to get the bad news that their top 10 at Torrey Pines wouldn’t get them into the party at TPC Scottsdale.
The problem is the WMPO’s popularity and the long list of fully-exempt players, medical exemptions and career-money guys who sit at the front of the line. They trump the players from the Web.com Tour Final list, as well as the previous week’s top 10s.
As of early Tuesday, Michael Putnam – leading money-winner on the Web.com Tour last year – was first alternate, with Ishikawa second and Thomas third. Putnam got into the field Tuesday afternoon, though, after Tim Herron withdrew.
If the top 10 from San Diego doesn’t get you into the WMPO field, it could be used to get into next week’s AT&T Pebble Beach gathering, but that benefits only Thomas; the other names already are entered into that pro-am.
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FIRST TOP 10: Speaking of Thomas, the one-time University of Alabama standout, he clearly was thrilled with the way the Farmers unfolded. The share of 10th was his best finish in eight PGA Tour tournaments.
“I didn’t know I was even in this until Monday (when he got official word that he was a sponsor exemption), and for the first three days I hit it extremely poor,” he said. “But I’m proud of the way I hung in there on what was one of the best set-ups I’ve ever played.”
Thomas, 20, will have a chance to play the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, but the following week he’ll head to Colombia to begin his focus on the Web.com Tour schedule.
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COLD DAY IN OHIO: When you’re raised in Australia, cold weather is a foreign concept, only relevant when it dips below 60. So you can imagine that Jason Day is like a fish out of water living in Ohio, especially in this year of the “polar vortex.”
“Jason doesn’t really like the cold very much,” said his wife, Ellie.
To solve the challenge of how to stay golf-sharp while temperatures plunged, Day decided on a good stretch of practice in Palm Springs, Calif., in preparation for his season-opener at the Farmers Insurance Open. But the other side to Jason and Ellie is this: They prefer their motor home over airplanes and hotels, whenever possible.
They have a driver to handle the duties behind the wheel, and he drove the motor home out to Palm Springs, where Day practiced a lot with Nick Watney. The motor home was with them in San Diego, then they were headed back to Palm Springs so that he could have another week of practice before teeing it up in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Day said he still was undecided about the Feb. 13-16 Northern Trust Open at Riviera, but he was on board for the following week’s Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.
All of which is one way to beat the dreaded polar vortex.
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ON THE MOVE: Scott Stallings is another player who learned last year that it’s not easy trying to stay golf-sharp while camped out where winter can take a bite out of you.
A diehard Tennessean, Stallings froze there in the 2012-13 winter, so he decided that Scottsdale, Ariz., would be his home base for winters for now. Smart man. He also has explored a membership at Whisper Rock, arguably the best golf club in the planet, and he already has giving credit to his winter in Scottsdale for his victory at the Farmers Insurance Open.
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START YOUR ENGINES: As parting shots go, Stallings had a beauty late Sunday afternoon. After wrapping up his post-tournament media session, Stallings went through the ritual of signing flags for tournament officials. When a member of the grounds crew introduced himself and congratulated Stallings, the winner signed a flag for him but couldn’t resist.
He told the gentleman, adding a big laugh, “You guys are going to need to put new mower blades on.”
Yes, the high, thick rough was the story of the week.
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HE WANTS TO PLAY: Asked why he had played the Humana Challenge for the first time since 2011, his rookie season, Keegan Bradley was honest. “I didn’t want my first tournament of the new year to be here.”
Bradley was referring to the Farmers, and it was a nod of respect to the South Course at Torrey Pines, which had a U.S. Open feel to it. Now after having seen Tiger Woods try to knock the rust off in miserable fashion, one could appreciate Bradley’s thinking. He got into a little bit of rhythm in the desert and finished T-18 at the Humana and carried some of that into Torrey Pines, where Bradley finished T-16.
But the bigger picture is this: Whereas a guy like Adam Scott will make the Masters his fifth PGA Tour stop of the year, Bradley thinks he has to be in competition. “I just couldn’t take that much time off,” he said. “If I did take time off, guess what? I’d be be playing golf.”
In 2012, the first year he was eligible, Bradley made the Masters his 10th tournament. It was his 11th tournament in 2013, and it figures to be his 10th in the calendar year of 2014.
“I just cannot see myself taking time off in big chunks,” Bradley said.
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QUALIFIED SUCCESS: Chris Smith’s battle to return to the PGA Tour continues to travel along the toughest route: Monday qualifiers. But a round of applause for the former PGA Tour winner, because he made it through for a second straight week and the third time this wraparound season.
Amateur Ki Taek Lee shot 65 for medalist honors at McCormick Ranch GC and earn a spot into the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Smith, Danny Lee, and Kevin Kim tied for second at 66, but because only three spots are available in this Monday qualifier, a playoff was necessary. Kim was ousted when he made bogey.
Smith, 44, advanced, one week after having done so at the Farmers Insurance Open. He also qualified for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in October.
But as much as he takes pride in having navigated these challenges, Smith is focused on the next step, which is to make a cut and get into the mix.