FedExCup Fall update: Sam Ryder solidifies positioning in The Next 10, eyes first TOUR win
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Written by Justin Lemminn @PGATOUR
Recent form versus course history.
Those are the two sides of an ongoing debate about which matters more for a PGA TOUR player on any given week.
Sam Ryder has historically struggled at The RSM Classic. He’s missed the cut in five of six starts, and the lone exception was a T61. Ryder is closing out the best season of his PGA TOUR career, however, and his improved play has carried over into this week’s season finale.
Ryder is in second place after The RSM Classic's first two rounds, shooting 67-65 to sit one back of leader Ludvig Åberg. Ryder’s strong play this week could have big ramifications.
The six-year veteran is seeking his first PGA TOUR victory after several close calls; his seven top-three finishes on TOUR include two runners-up. This also will be the first season he finishes in the top 100 of the FedExCup standings. He entered this week ranked 60th on the FedExCup Fall.
He holds the final spot in The Next 10 for two of 2024’s early Signature Events. To reward strong performers from the FedExCup Fall, Nos. 51-60 after this week will earn spots in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Genesis Invitational. A win this week would qualify Ryder for the season’s first Signature Event, The Sentry, as well.
Ryder was 3 under for his first 14 holes Friday before finishing birdie-birdie-eagle on Sea Island’s Plantation Course to shoot a 65 that matched the low round of the day on that course. He hit a 255-yard 3-iron onto the green before jarring a 50-foot eagle putt on the Plantation Course’s par-5 finisher.
Ryder said The Next 10 has been his biggest motivation in his five starts in the FedExCup Fall.
“That's really what's propelled me through the Fall,” Ryder said. “That's been my goal since I finished, because I made the Playoffs, made it to Memphis (for the FedEx St. Jude Classic) and fell a little short and didn't make it to … the BMW.
“I feel like it's just going to be a really good way to start the year if you can get into a couple of those big events early.”
Ryder was 61st in the FedExCup standings at the conclusion of the Playoffs. The top 50 qualified for the BMW Championship and clinched their spots in all eight of next season’s Signature Events, the limited-field tournaments that will feature the top players on TOUR.
Ryder is currently projected to move to 53rd in the FedExCup Fall. More importantly, his first PGA TOUR win is within reach. Ryder, 33, is making his 172nd TOUR start this week.
He arrived at Sea Island having made eight consecutive cuts, including three top-15 finishes. He finished T7 at the 3M Open in July and is coming off a T10 in his most recent start, at the World Wide Technology Championship two weeks ago.
“I've been swinging well for the past month-plus now, have the confidence coming in,” he said. He’s playing well enough to overcome his history at The RSM Classic, and to earn his way into the TOUR’s elite events.
Top 125 watch
Maverick McNealy played the last six holes of Friday’s round at Sea Island’s Plantation Course in 4 under, including a birdie and eagle on the final two holes to put the cut line in his rearview mirror. McNealy entered the week at No. 127 in the FedExCup Fall standings. By making the cut, he has the chance to play his way into the top 125 He was projected to move to No. 121 in the standings after Friday’s round.
“The one hole that is a difference maker for me was making birdie on 13,” McNealy said after his round. “I was really looking forward to just competing this week and I sharpened up some things in my game. My body feels better. I was excited to just figure it out and that's exactly what the last two days made me do.”
McNealy would be a prime candidate to earn a medical extension after missing several months with a shoulder injury. He returned to the TOUR at the World Wide Technology Championship two weeks ago, missing the cut. Though the extension gives him something to fall back on going into 2024, the chance to finish in the top 125 after the season’s conclusion and secure his PGA TOUR card was extra motivation for the 28-year-old. His final stretch on Friday gave him the chance to do so, putting him in contention for the weekend and allowing him the chance to fight for full status on the PGA TOUR as he continues his post-injury return to form.
Patton Kizzire also saw a glimmer of hope illuminated by his final stretch of the day. He was one shot outside the cut line when he arrived at his second-to-last hole of the day. Having struggled with his putter and coming into this week outside the coveted top 125 in the FedExCup Fall, Kizzire put the pieces together just in time, birdieing his final two holes to make the cut and keep his hopes of a PGA TOUR card for next season alive. No stranger to the bubble, Kizzire has adopted a new mentality, one that helped him keep his composure coming down the stretch as the potential for full-status in 2024 dangled in front of him.
“I certainly have put a lot of emphasis on golf my entire life,” Patton said after his round. “It's pretty much consumed me, but I'm learning. I realize it's not life or death, and I have to remind myself of that occasionally. … Life's funny. Some people learn at different times and golf is really important, but it's not the most important thing. So that's kind of come to me in the last several years.”
Signature Event watch
Ludvig Åberg capitalized on a banner year including a Ryder Cup appearance and a DP World Tour victory (Omega European Masters), but some more potential accolades surfaced when he finished Friday with a 5-under 65 and the 36-hole lead at The RSM Classic. Åberg is in sight of his first PGA TOUR victory a mere five months after gaining his TOUR card via PGA TOUR University in June, but his positioning after Friday also jumped him 41 spots in the FedExCup Fall (96 to 55) and into The Next 10. The players who finish Nos. 51-60 in the FedExCup Fall standings at the end of the week will earn exemptions into two Signature Events – the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Genesis Invitational.
Despite opening with three straight birdies Friday on Plantation, J.J. Spaun closed his back nine with a double bogey and went 1 over on the back to make the cut on the number and bump out of The Next 10. Entering the final event of the season barely inside The Next 10, Spaun now sits at No. 62 heading into the weekend.
Two-time PGA TOUR winner Troy Merritt entered this week at No. 123 in the FedExCup Fall. He shot 77 in the first round, however, and even a valiant second-round 64, was not enough for him to make the weekend. The 38-year-old is now projected to move from No. 123 to No. 126 in the standings, his future no longer in his hands.
Needing a birdie on his last hole to make the cut, University of Texas alumni Doug Ghim made par to shoot 67. He is projected to move from No. 121 to No. 125. The bubble boy will not be around to play for his PGA TOUR card this weekend, though, and awaits his fate.
Carl Yuan needed a big week at Sea Island. Entering the tournament squarely on the 125th spot, a bogey-free, second-round 70 put the 26-year-old safely inside the cut line and within range of locking up a 2024 PGA TOUR card. Sitting in 32nd place through two rounds, he is now projected to move to 120th in the FedExCup Fall standings.
An opening-round 67 on the Seaside Course boded well for the Swede Henrik Norlander’s chances, but a double bogey on his first hole Friday, followed by five bogeys, pushed him just outside of the cut line. The Swede entered the week at No. 126 in the standings and will not be able to crack the top 125 by week’s end.
PGA TOUR staffers Amanda Cashman and Stephanie Royer also contributed to this story.