Still plenty to play for on tour

Originally Published: October 6, 2004
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

Much of the drama is missing, thanks to Vijay Singh.

A year ago, as the PGA Tour season concluded, a handful of players were still in contention for PGA Tour Player of the Year honors, as well as the money title. Singh already has both wrapped up.

But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty at stake as the last four full-field events unfold during the next month beginning with this week's Michelin Championship at Las Vegas.

Ask any of the players hovering outside the top 125 on the money list.

Ask any of the players not in the top 40, or the top 30, or the top 20.

As the long season winds down, dozens of players will be fighting for any number of things. It might not get the attention of the No. 1 ranking, or the No. 1 spot on the money list. But to them, it might be just as important.

Where they're playing

This week:
Michelin Championship
Site:
Las Vegas
Courses:
TPC at Summerlin (7,243 yards, par 72), TPC at The Canyons (7,193 yards, par 71) and Bear's Best Golf Club (7,381 yards, par 72).
Purse:
$4 million (Winner: $720,000)
Television:
Thursday: 4-6 p.m. ET (USA)
Friday: 4-6 p.m. ET (USA)
Saturday: 3-6 p.m ET (ABC)
Sunday: 3-6 p.m ET (ABC)
Defending champ:
Stuart Appleby


This week:
Asahi Ryokuken Intenational
Site:
North Augusta, S.C.
Course:
Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club (6,366 yards, par 72).
Purse:
$1 million (Winner: $150,000)
Television:
None
Defending champ:
Rosie Jones


This week:
Administaff Classic
Site:
Spring, Texas
Course:
Augusta Pines Golf Club (7,060 yards, par 72).
Purse:
$1.6 million (Winner: $240,000)
Television:
Friday: 2:30-5 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 2:30-5 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 8-10:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Inaugural event


This week:
Dunhill Links Championship
Site:
St. Andrews and Carnoustie, Scotland
Courses:
St. Andrews, Old Course (7,115 yards, par 72), Carnoustie, Championship Course (7,112 yards, par 72) and Kingsbarns Golf Links (7,099 yards, par 72).
Purse:
$4.8 million (Winner: $800,000)
Television:
Thursday: 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (TGC)
Friday: 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Lee Westwood


This week:
Gila River Golf Classic
Site:
Chandler, Ariz.
Course:
Whirlwind Golf Club, Cattail Course (7,240 yards, par 72).
Purse:
$475,000 (Winner: $85,500)
Television:
Thursday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Friday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Lucas Glover

While Singh and Ernie Els, the new No. 2 in the World Ranking, do battle this week at the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland -- the first of four expected head-to-head matchups between the two to end the season and determine who is No. 1 for the near future -- many of the PGA Tour's rank and file are assembled in Las Vegas, hoping to take advantage of the opening.

And now, every advantage is key.

What's at stake?

The Tour Championship: The top 30 on the money list through the Chrysler Championship on Oct. 31 earn a spot in the prestigious season-ending event. There is no cut at the tournament to be played at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, meaning a big payday for those who qualify for the event with a $6 million purse.

U.S. Open and British Open: For those not already exempt, a finish among the top 30 money winners gets a spot in the U.S. Open. A top 20 finish is required for an invite to the British Open.

Masters: For players not already invited to Augusta National next spring, finishing among the top 40 money winners is another way to get in the year's first major.

Invitationals: Those who finish among the top 70 money winners assure themselves spots in the speciality events such as the Bay Hill Invitational, Colonial and Memorial. Top 125: This is where jobs are at stake. In order to be fully exempt next season and able to gain entry into any full-field event, a player must finish among the top 125 money winners. Scott Hend is in 125th position right now, just $7,000 ahead of Dean Wilson. A strong finish this week gives them some security.

Top 150: For those who don't finish among the top 125, ending up between 126th and 150th is a small consolation. Those players get a free pass to the finals of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, where they can attempt to earn one of 30 tour cards and improve their ranking. And players in this position will still have limited status next year.

Out of the top 150: These players will have no status on the PGA Tour in 2004, unless they are past winners of a tournament. And in order to regain their cards, they will have to make it through two stages of the qualifying tournament.

And time is running out.

Five Things To Bank On

1.
Players will be thrilled that this week's Michelin Championship at Las Vegas has been reduced to a 72-hole event, especially the 11 who played last week in Ireland. This used to be one of two tournaments on tour that had a five-day pro-am format. (Bob Hope is the other.) This year it has cut back a day.

2.
If Jim Furyk is to keep his streak alive of victories in consecutive seasons, this is the place to do it. Furyk has won three times in Vegas, including his first win in 1995. Furyk began the year with wins in six straight seasons, second only to Tiger Woods, who has lengthened his streak to nine straight. Furyk has played in just 10 tournaments due to March wrist surgery.

3.
Rory Sabbatini is another player who loves Las Vegas. He has three top-10s in his past three visits and has shot 12 of his last 15 rounds under 70.

4.
Refreshed after a week off, Craig Stadler will attempt to make some history on the Champions Tour. He can become the first player since Chi Chi Rodriguez to win four consecutive starts when he plays at this week's Administaff Small Business Classic near Houston. Stadler has five victories this year.

5.
The pressure will be on at the LPGA's Asahi Ryokuken International in North Augusta, S.C. This is the last full-field event of the year and players need to finish among the top 90 money winners in order to gain full exempt status for 2005. Those who finish from 91st to 125th will have conditional status, but can return to the LPGA Qualifying tournament Dec. 1-5 to try and improve their position.

QUICK TAKE
Vijay Singh
Singh
For Golf Channel junkies, this is one of the best weeks to catch the PGA European Tour. According to the World Ranking, the top European tour field in 10 years is assembled at the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.

And you couldn't ask for better venues. The European version of Pebble Beach, the Dunhill is played at St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. St. Andrews, of course, is the home of golf and will be the site for the 2005 British Open. Carnoustie hosted the championship in 1999 and will do so again in 2007. Kingsbarns is a five-year old venue located a few miles from St. Andrews with views every bit as stunning as those at Pebble Beach.

The format calls for pros and an amateur to play each of the three courses, with a cut made after 54 holes. Those who advance to the final round will play St. Andrews again on Sunday.

Several PGA Tour regulars are in the field, including Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Nick Price and Adam Scott. European Ryder Cup players Lee Westwood, the defending champion, along with Colin Montgomerie, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Luke Donald, Paul Casey, David Howell and Thomas Levet are also entered.

It should be some tournament.

MAILBAG: ASK BOB HARIG
Bob HarigGot a question about the PGA Tour? Ask ESPN.com golf writer Bob Harig, who will answer your inquiries in each installment of This Week in Golf.

Q. After watching Tiger Woods from 2000-'02, have we witnessed the best golf will ever offered? The 1980s and early 90s were the best of times for the NBA (Bird, Magic, Jordan), but it has since seen a huge dropoff. I am a huge Vijay Singh fan, but it seems that golf is not as compelling as it has been in recent years?
Larry
Medway, Mass.

A. Television ratings proved that Woods made it compelling, even when he was winning big. His run from 1999 through 2002, when he won seven of 11 majors and captured nine tournaments in 2000 alone, was the stuff of legend. It might very well be that we don't see that type of golf again.

Q. Do you think that Fred Couples will ever be a Ryder Cup captain? It is said that he is in the running but they are favoring Tom Lehman, Corey Pavin, Mark O'Meara or Paul Azinger. I think that his laid back attitude, but exceptional play in Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, and other team events (with Davis Love III) would be a perfect combination of experience and attitude.
Paul DeRosa
Washington, D.C.

A. Couples fits the U.S. Ryder Cup captain profile. He is in his mid-40s, but still competitive and playing on the PGA Tour. He has a major championship, the 1992 Masters. And he has double-digit PGA Tour victories. Couples is well-liked by the players and his laid-back style might be the perfect choice for the PGA of America. But he's up against a lot of competition. Paul Azinger, Mark O'Meara, Tom Lehman and Corey Pavin are also worthy candidates. And Larry Nelson has been getting plenty of attention lately.

Q. Why do golfers complain of "unfair" conditions on the golf course? The course could be extremely difficult, but if they all play the same course, so how can it be unfair? Am I the only one that feels this way?
Fremont

A. Pro golfers don't like it when they can't exhibit their skills. Although everyone had to play the same tough greens at Shinnecock this summer at the U.S. Open, many players believed the conditions were unfair. It required luck to get the ball close to the hole. Yes, everyone had to play the same conditions. But an excellent shot might be penalized, while a poor one might get rewarded. Most players don't mind tough courses. Especially the good ones. They think the best rise in such conditions. But there is a fine line, sometimes, between tough and unfair.


Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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