As we enter the final leg of the 2013-14 season -- just five tournaments remain before the FedExCup Playoffs -- the time is now to birddog the guys loitering around the top 125 in FedExCup points. However, as was the case in 2013, the top 125 on the money list will also retain fully exempt status for 2014-15. They just won't qualify for the Playoffs.
Nicolas Colsaerts, Padraig Harrington, Peter Hanson and David Toms needed the grandfathered criterion for status this season. Currently, six golfers outside the top 125 in the FedExCup standings sit inside the top 125 in earnings. Mike Weir (128th in points) may not crack the field at The Barclays, but at 94th in earnings, the lefty is a virtual lock to retain status. He burned the second of two career earnings exemptions this season and will be attempting to become the first Canadian to win his national championship since Pat Fletcher in 1954.
Like Weir, who finished solo second at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, Jim Renner is riding the wave of a runner-up finish at Pebble Beach. The 30-year-old is 135th in FedExCup points but 103rd on the money list. Assuming he holds position, his third year on the PGA TOUR (2014-15) will be his first north of the Web.com Tour reshuffle category.
The other four outside the top 125 in FedExCup points and inside the top 125 in earnings aren't as comfortable as Weir and Renner. Bud Cauley ranks a respective 131st and 118th. He dislocated his left shoulder on the Saturday of the John Deere Classic and withdrew early from this week's stop in Canada. David Lingmerth (130th in points; 119th in earnings) is scheduled to compete at Royal Montreal. The Swede has two top 10s but 19 finishes outside the top 40 in 23 starts.
Briny Baird shared runner-up honors at The McGladrey Classic in November, but hasn't added a top 45 since as he battles a chronic back injury. He's 129th in FedExCup points and 123rd on the money list. However, the 42-year-old non-winner hasn't played since Colonial in late May, so he may be headed for another medical extension to begin 2014-15.
Brian Gay is the final of the sextet. Since a T32 at Waialae in January, he enters the RBC Canadian Open without a top 40 in his last 16 starts. However, even though he's 127th in FedExCup points and 124th in earnings, Gay is already fully exempt next season by virtue of a two-year exemption earned for winning the 2013 Humana Challenge.
The snapshot takeaway is that a singular high finish can pave the way to next year's TOUR card, but a steadier season on the whole can be the ticket to quiet entry into the Playoffs. The following six are currently inside the top 125 in FedExCup points but outside the top 125 in earnings: Camilo Villegas (95th in points), Michael Putnam (99th), Brice Garnett (109th), Ricky Barnes (119th), Robert Allenby (123rd) and Greg Chalmers (124th). Collectively, they are 94-for-145 with only three top 10s and 18 top 25s. None are currently exempt for 2014-15, although Allenby could burn his second career earnings exemption if necessary. He played this season on his first.
Meanwhile, when comparing the largest differences in rankings between FedExCup points and earnings among all 253 golfers that qualify, both ends of the spectrum are well-populated by guys inside the top 125 of the former. Villegas and Putnam share the largest difference at -32 (FedExCup points rank minus earnings rank) and lead the top eight (and 13 of the top 16) on this end currently inside the top 125. Flip it over and you'll find Weir on the outer edge at +34 using the same simple equation. Lee Westwood (+33) ranks second and Renner (+32) is third. Like Westwood, the next five are inside the top 125 in both, and the list speaks to the ability of the game's elite to play well with relatively reduced schedules: Ernie Els (+27), Ian Poulter (+21), Henrik Stenson (+21), Louis Oosthuizen (+20) and Steve Stricker (+19). None of the five after Stricker rank inside the top 130 in either.
Power Rankings Wild Card
Hunter Mahan ... Back to finish some business after leaving last year's edition as the 36-hole leader to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. Despite below-average form for months, this week's event is as golden a time as any to invest. With many of the game's elite resting after The Open Championship (where he placed T32), he can pounce an on opportunity to reemerge as a star. Lest we overlook that he's currently 68th in the FedExCup standings, so he's this close to shoring up two guaranteed starts in the Playoffs. And we can't rule out the fact that he may take pride in being the only golfer to play in every tournament in Playoffs history.
Stewart Cink ... Will have some familiarity with the redesign at Royal Montreal thanks to a 3-1-0 slate during the 2007 Presidents Cup and he arrives having survived his last 12 cuts, including in all three majors for the first time since 2000.
Retief Goosen ... Went 2-2-1 at the Presidents Cup here in 2007 and has collected a paycheck in each of his last 10 starts. This is his 23rd start of the season. He had never played in more than 20 in any other year.
Jason Bohn ... Only if he's affordable in DFS. Placed T11 at Greenbrier and three top fives this season, but he's finished outside the top 55 in 11 of his last 14 starts.
Robert Garrigus ... Typical risky investment whose game translates to most tracks where escaping from trouble is a reasonably achieved objective. Value rises a bit in this field.
Justin Hicks ... Snipped from the Sleepers, but he'll serve the purpose quite well here. While he's fourth on TOUR in fairways hit and third in greens in regulation, because the greens at Royal Montreal are new to most in the field, there's a bit of a even playing field. This boosts his stock across the board even though he hasn't found a top 25 among just three cuts made in his last seven starts.
Mike Weir ... Well, while a win would make for one of the stories of the year and right up there among the best in the 105 editions of the tournament, the fact remains that his solo second at the Byron Nelson in May is his only top 40 of the season and only top 25 on the PGA TOUR in over four years. Went 3-1-1 during the 2007 Presidents Cup, but that's merely a factual footnote given his career arc since.
Ernie Els ... It's been seven years since he went 3-2-0 at the Presidents Cup at Royal Montreal. Only one top 30 in 18 stroke-play starts in 2014. Currently 152nd on the PGA TOUR in adjusted scoring.
K.J. Choi ... Suddenly scuffling. Since a T2 at the Travelers, he's 1-for-3 (T64, Congressional) and hasn't broken 72 in his last seven rounds. Played in the Presidents Cup at Royal Montreal in 2007, but his recent form is entirely more relevant.
Keep an Eye On
Erik Compton ... Turning around after his first appearance in The Open Championship where he missed the cut by two strokes. Since a T2 at the U.S. Open, he's just 1-for-3 with a T46 at Congressional. Seventeenth on TOUR in strokes gained-putting.
Scott Piercy ... Making his first start on the PGA TOUR since the Match Play in February. Underwent surgery on Feb. 27 for a torn tendon in his right elbow. Went 1-for-2 in rehab starts on the Web.com Tour the last two weeks. Won the 2012 RBC Canadian Open at Hamilton G&CC in Ontario.
Returning to Competition
Jeff Overton ... Hasn't played since Memphis seven weeks ago. Withdrew early from both Greenbrier and the John Deere. Seven early WDs on the season. Battled a wrist injury early in 2014.
Brian Gay ... Out since a thumb injury knocked him out of the Greenbrier after an opening 78. For more on him, see the opening above.
Jarrod Lyle ... Poised for his long-awaited return to the United States following a second bout with leukemia. Scheduled to compete in the Web.com Tour's Midwest Classic.
Brandt Jobe ... In the field at the Web.com Tour's Midwest Classic. Hasn't played anywhere in nearly 10 months after having surgery on his left shoulder in November. Placed 149th in FedExCup points in 2013, so he'd get a Non-exempt Medical Extension for 2014-15 if he needs it.
Bud Cauley ... As mentioned at the top, he's still healing from a dislocated left shoulder.
Matt Jones ... Expected to return for his first appearance in next week's World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
This was one of those weeks when I exhaled when I realized that the No. 1 in my Power Rankings was still available. So, put me down for Jim Furyk at the RBC Canadian Open. I still have Dustin Johnson (No. 3) on my board, however.
Furyk is in one of his patented grooves, reinforced most recently with a solo fourth at Royal Liverpool. That he competed in the 2007 Presidents Cup is a bonus, but inconsequential to my decision. Since my goal in every tournament is to record a top 10, so my confidence is as high as it's been all season.
The tournament sets up nicely for two-man formats in that there's a solid handful of the elite leading a bevy of second-tier investments that have room to prosper. Tim Clark (No. 5) jumps off the page as an automatic complement. Also consider Carl Pettersson (No. 14), who has been knocking all year and is a former winner of the tournament, albeit at St. George's Golf & Country Club in 2010.
Summary for The Open Championship
Pick: Graeme McDowell. Result: T9. Earnings: $192,491.57. FedExCup points: 82.330
Overall record 29 for 36 Earnings $2,684,157.95 FedExCup points 1,441.899 Wins 0 Top 5s 3 Top 10s 9 Top 25s 16 Missed cuts 7 Withdrawals 0 Disqualifications 0