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The Five: Can JT qualify for Signature Events and more burning questions ahead of FedExCup Fall

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The Five: Can JT qualify for Signature Events and more burning questions ahead of FedExCup Fall

    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    For the last decade, the Wyndham Championship marked the final stop on the PGA TOUR calendar. It was a week that could make or break careers, as players battled to stay in the top 125 and keep their jobs for another year.

    That drama will now take over the FedExCup Fall.

    What's at stake in the first FedExCup Fall?

    Next week’s Fortinet Championship kicks off a reimagined fall season that will see that high-stakes drama extended over a seven-event stretch. Within the FedExCup Fall, which concludes at The RSM Classic in November, there are plenty of interesting subplots to follow.

    Here are the five biggest storylines into the FedExCup Fall.

    Can Justin Thomas play his way into 2024 Signature Events?

    It’s hard to imagine Justin Thomas missing tournaments like The Sentry or The Genesis Invitational – yet that is certainly in the range of outcomes for the 15-time TOUR winner next season.

    Thomas was a near chip-in away on the 72nd hole of the Wyndham Championship from making the FedExCup Playoffs and quelling any doubts about his position in the sport's upper echelon. Instead, he will be among the many players fighting to compete alongside the game’s top pros next year. Thomas will not play in The Sentry without a win during the FedExCup Fall.

    Justin Thomas' heartbreaking chip shot at Wyndham

    And in the revamped 2024 PGA TOUR schedule, only 70-80 players are expected to play in the following seven Signature Events. The top 50 of the previous year’s FedExCup standings automatically qualify, while the final 20-30 spots are reserved for the best of various categories.

    His spot in the next two Signature Events of 2024 – the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Genesis Invitational – will depend on him fulfilling one of several options.

    He could gain a spot through The Next 10, which awards spots to the top 10 available and not otherwise exempt from the current FedExCup standings. That would mean finishing between Nos. 51-60 of the FedExCup standings at the conclusion of the FedExCup Fall. Currently No. 71, that is well within Thomas' range.

    He could qualify via The Swing 5, which award five spots to the top five FedExCup points earners from the swing leading up to each Signature Event. For the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Genesis Invitational, those swing events are the Sony Open in Hawaii, The American Express and the Farmers Insurance Open.

    Thomas could also qualify by finishing inside the top 30 of the Official World Golf Ranking from the preceding week. He is currently 25th.

    As it was to conclude the Regular Season, all eyes will be on the talented Thomas this fall.

    The top 125 bubble

    Seventy players officially locked up their cards by qualifying for the FedExCup Playoffs. The other 55 full-status cards on TOUR will be finalized over the next two months.

    Players carry over the points earned during the FedExCup Regular Season, meaning any advantage they accumulated is maintained. Those closer to the top-70 bubble are likely safe to finish inside the top 125 (i.e., No. 73 Davis Thompson holds 596 points, more than 300 points clear of No. 125 Austin Smotherman).

    Some players outside the top 70 are also exempt for 2024 regardless of their finish after the FedExCup Fall, including No. 71 Justin Thomas and No. 72 Adam Scott, each with their status secure on winner’s exemptions.

    The players with a real possibility of losing (or earning) their TOUR card are much closer to the top 125 threshold.

    Here’s a look at the current FedExCup bubble:

    120. C.T. Pan

    121. Chesson Hadley

    122. Patton Kizzire

    123. Zecheng Dou

    124. Jimmy Walker

    125. Austin Smotherman

    126. Trey Mullinax*

    127. Aaron Wise*

    128. Scott Stallings*

    129. Harrison Endycott

    130. Scott Piercy

    131. Erik van Rooyen

    132. Harry Higgs

    133. Troy Merritt

    134. Paul Haley II

    135. Ludvig Aberg*

    * - already exempt for 2024 season

    One good week is all it takes for one of these players to secure themselves a life-changing future.

    Can the big names find form?

    The fall will hold a different significance for some of the game’s familiar names who, despite being 90th or below on the standings, aren’t concerned about keeping their card.

    Billy Horschel, Webb Simpson, Cameron Champ and Kevin Kisner are among those with full status in 2024 due to various winner’s exemptions. Although they won’t feel the stress of fighting for their jobs, the pressure to get their games back in a familiar position to start the new season is undoubtedly mounting.

    It was during this time a year ago that Horschel began experimenting with changes to his swing that he hoped would help with his consistency. It did more harm than good.

    “It was one of those things where we try to get better in the game of golf,” Horschel said earlier this season. “There were certain things in my swing that led to a few issues and so we thought if we could make a little bit different loading pattern, sort of how we loaded in the backswing, it would fix some of the other issues. It worked at home, it worked in practice, it just didn't work in tournaments under the pressure.”

    How Billy Horschel uses data to prepare for PGA TOUR events

    Horschel has since scrapped the idea and has returned to the swing that helped him win in back-to-back seasons and secure a spot in the 2022 Presidents Cup. After a rocky summer, he finished T13 at the 3M Open and fourth at the Wyndham Championship to end his season. At No. 90 in the FedExCup standings, Horschel can play his way into the first Signature Events of 2024 with good play.

    Kisner sat out the season's final six weeks to re-focus and re-energize himself. The 39-year-old had missed five consecutive cuts before withdrawing from the Travelers Championship, his last start this season. While never a premier tee-to-green player on TOUR, Kisner ranks 182nd in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green this season, losing nearly two strokes more per round than in 2022. The lack of confidence in his driving has bled into the part of the game he was known for best – his putting. Kisner had finished in the top 20 in putting for four of the last five seasons but currently ranks 116th. The four-time TOUR winner will return at the Fortinet Championship and is 192nd in the standings.

    Champ, 28, has always dealt with bouts of inconsistency, but his peak golf hasn’t been as good as when he won three years in a row from 2019-2021. His best finish is solo eighth at the ZOZO Championship. Champ made just seven of 23 cuts in the Regular Season.

    Simpson has entered a new stage of his career. The seven-time TOUR winner appeared in only 16 events this season, the second-fewest of his career behind only 2020, a year he won twice. Simpson has status through 2026 thanks to his win at the 2018 PLAYERS Championship and additional victories.

    This fall will prove vital for these five players, who still fancy themselves among the game’s elite.

    Tracking non-members and the DP World Tour’s Race to Dubai rankings

    A quick look at the FedExCup standings doesn’t fully encapsulate everyone vying for a spot on the PGA TOUR in 2024.

    There are several different avenues to status that players will be fighting for this fall. Special Temporary Members on the PGA TOUR will be paying particularly close attention to where No. 125 in the FedExCup finishes. The point total for that individual at the conclusion of The RSM Classic will be the cutoff point for any Special Temporary Members to earn TOUR status. If any Special Temporary Members have accrued equal or more FedExCup points than No. 125, they will earn their card for 2024. They will not earn a card if they fail to meet that threshold.

    Five players are currently competing under Special Temporary Membership: Nicolai Hojgaard, Min Woo Lee, Ryan Fox, Ryan Gerard and Peter Kuest.

    Presently, Hojgaard, Lee, Fox and Gerard have more FedExCup points than current No. 125 Austin Smotherman, who has 293 points.

    A look at each Special Temporary Member’s point total:

    • Hojgaard, 438 points (would be No. 101)
    • Lee, 399 points (would be No. 111)
    • Fox, 304 points (would be No. 121)
    • Gerard, 322 points (would be No. 119)
    • Kuest, 242 points (would be No. 139)

    Kuest needs to make up ground this fall to play his way into position, while the other four just need to maintain their positioning to lock up a card. That adds another element of suspense to the seven fall events.

    But it may not come to that for Lee or Hojgaard. Along with the potential to earn their card through Special Temporary Membership, they may gain status through the DP World Tour. For the first time, DP World Tour members can make it to the PGA TOUR through the Race to Dubai Rankings. The top 10 in the Race to Dubai at the end of the year, who are not otherwise exempt, will earn full status on the PGA TOUR.

    Through the Omega European Masters, here are the 10 players in position to earn their TOUR card.

    Click here for a complete look at the standings.

    Nine events remain on the DP World Tour, leaving much more to be determined.

    It sets up quite a dramatic weekend in the middle of November. The season-ending DP World Tour Championship and the FedExCup Fall-ending The RSM Classic will both conclude on November 19.

    How many events will the top 50 play?

    The first iteration of the FedExCup Fall carries plenty of intrigue in its unknowns. One of those uncertainties surrounds the top 50 in the FedExCup. Having made it to the BMW Championship, every player in the top 50 has already locked up their card for 2024 and a spot in all eight Signature Events. So, how often will they play this fall?

    The answer varies greatly from player to player. Some will opt to maximize rest, while others will prioritize competitive reps. Max Homa will be at the Fortinet Championship, attempting to win the event for the third year in a row. Rickie Fowler has said he will play the ZOZO Championship, the Hero World Challenge and the Grant Thornton Invitational. Meanwhile, Scottie Scheffler teased, “you won’t be seeing much of me. I’ll be hiding.”

    Exactly how many of the top 50 play and how often will be worth monitoring this year and into future years. Will the best of the best benefit from an extended break, or will the ones that play occasionally have a leg up once competition ramps up again in January?

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