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The Five: Who has the most at stake in the FedExCup Fall?

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The Five: Who has the most at stake in the FedExCup Fall?

    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    NAPA, Calif. – The re-imagined FedExCup Fall kicks off at this week’s Fortinet Championship. Players have a wide variety of goals for this portion of the season. Some are eyeing the traditional top 125 to retain their PGA TOUR card for 2024. Others are preparing for next week’s Ryder Cup, while some are aspiring for starts in two Signature Events at historic California venues (The Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club and AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am). Others are playing to visit their favorite venues and earn additional perks like those coveted trophies, world-ranking points and more.

    Those dueling storylines will begin to take shape this week and will conclude in two months' time at The RSM Classic. This week’s edition of The Five explores the players with the most to gain with a strong performance this fall.

    1. Justin Thomas

    It’s been difficult for Thomas to remind himself it’s not that bad. That narrowly missing out on the FedExCup Playoffs didn’t mean everything was wrong. That a season mired by swing tweaks, Ryder Cup pressures and underperformance couldn’t be turned around.

    In that respect, a forced six weeks away from competitive golf wasn’t the worst thing. After finishing as the last man out, No. 71 in the FedExCup standings, following the Wyndham Championship, Thomas put his clubs away and reflected. Several weeks later, he got a call from Zach Johnson that he did indeed make the Ryder Cup team.

    Suddenly, the pressure was off. He’s excited to get back out on the course and ready to correct the issues that caused him to miss the Playoffs for the first time in his career.

    That is his goal for the fall: leaving in a better spot than he entered.

    'It was a lot of emotions' Justin Thomas on being selected to play in Ryder Cup

    That goes for his position in the standings. If Thomas, who still ranks 71st in the FedExCup, can finish between Nos. 51-60 after The RSM Classic, he will earn a spot in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Genesis Invitational, the first two Signature Events open to players qualifying through The Next 10. A win would secure him a spot in The Sentry, a tournament he’s won twice, as well.

    More importantly, he wants to enter the 2024 season feeling more like the player who reached No. 1 in the world a few years ago. Thomas is already exempt for next season. With his talent, he’s unlikely to be kept from all the Signature Events in 2024, even if he doesn’t qualify this fall. Yet he has the most to gain because if he finds the feelings and confidence that led him to win two majors, THE PLAYERS and a FedExCup, his FedExCup Fall will have been a smashing success.

    2. Taylor Montgomery

    It was in Napa last year that Montgomery began his oh-so-promising rookie season. He fired a final-round 64 to finish third, three back of winner Max Homa. It was the first of eight top 15s in nine starts to begin his first TOUR season. He was ninth in the FedExCup when the TOUR arrived at the Farmers Insurance Open, with Montgomery seemingly its latest rookie star.

    That didn’t materialize over the summer. Montgomery lost his swing and could not fix it during the Regular Season.

    “I don't think anybody else is shooting what I'm shooting from where I'm playing from,” said Montgomery, who was in full grind mode because of erratic misses.

    His fifth-place finish at Torrey Pines was his last top-15 finish. He has missed eight cuts since, including four in a row to end the Regular Season.

    His strong start buoyed his standing in the FedExCup as he struggled. Currently 53rd in the FedExCup, he’s positioned to qualify for several Signature Events to begin 2024. But he left Memphis, the first Playoffs event, knowing he needed to do more to stay there.

    Taylor Montgomery’s season comes to an end at FedEx St. Jude

    “My bad move right now is I get to the top and my head dives down and left and then I back out of it. I tried changing it in the middle of the season, and obviously, that's kind of where the bad run started,” he said after the final round of the FedEx St. Jude Championship. “... It's so hard. When you're trying to -- over every tee shot, there's so much concentration just because of how bad some of the shots that you hit, I mean, out here you just can't do that.”

    This week in Napa will serve as Montgomery’s first chance to correct the move in competition. It’s been a point of emphasis during his month off on TOUR. It should help that Napa, and the rest of the fall schedule, was where Montgomery played the best golf of his season.

    If he can conjure it again, Montgomery could re-enter the conversation for Rookie of the Year, set himself up for several Signature Event appearances in 2024 and get back on the path of an ascending star on TOUR.

    3. Stephen Jaeger

    The new PGA TOUR structure opened the door for several golfers to parlay strong seasons into life-changing results.

    Adam Schenk was one who took advantage – a strong summer secured him a spot in the TOUR Championship, locking up a two-year exemption and guaranteeing his spot in next year’s Signature Events. Rookie Eric Cole had a life-changing season, as well, after years on the mini-tours. By qualifying for the BMW Championship, he too punched his ticket into the Signature Events in 2024 and is the favorite to earn the PGA TOUR’s Rookie of the Year Award, which will be given after The RSM.

    Jaeger will attempt his version this Fall.

    The 34-year-old German bounced between PGA TOUR Latinoamerica and the Korn Ferry Tour to begin his career in the early 2010s. He earned his TOUR card in 2018, lost it after 2019 before re-earning it for the 2021-22 season.

    This has been his most stable season. After missing 16 cuts last season, he’s missed just three in 29 starts thus far. He’s made $2.3 million, nearly doubling his career earnings. At No. 54 in the FedExCup, his card is locked up for next year. But he could guarantee much more money and stability if he can maintain his position and play himself into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Genesis Invitational.

    With it comes guaranteed starts, more freedom in scheduling and increased FedExCup points, too – luxuries not afforded to Jaeger thus far in his career.

    4. Ludvig Aberg

    Aberg’s card is safe for 2024 (courtesy of finishing No. 1 in this year’s PGA TOUR U Rankings), but the hotshot Swede will gain invaluable experience this fall.

    Remember what Tom Kim did around this time a year ago? Then just a Special Temporary Member on TOUR, Kim won for the first time at the Wyndham Championship on the back of a final-round 61. Less than two months later, he became the darling of the International Team at the President’s Cup. Then he won his first start of the fall, the Shriner’s Children’s Open, to become the first player since Tiger Woods to win twice on the PGA TOUR before turning 21.

    Aberg has the chance to walk a similar path. Two weeks ago, he secured his first professional victory at the Omega European Masters on the DP World Tour, making birdie on four of his final five holes to come from behind and win. That was quickly parlayed into a captain’s pick for the European Ryder Cup team the next day. He is the first golfer to play in a Ryder Cup before a major championship.

    A strong performance on one of the biggest stages of golf would entrench him as one of the brightest young stars to join the TOUR this decade.

    Ludvig Aberg on transitioning from college golf to the PGA TOUR

    Where Aberg competes this fall depends heavily on the coming weeks, and how much rest he will need after a whirlwind start to his pro career. In one year’s time, he went from teeing it up in the Inverness Intercollegiate with his Texas Tech teammates to representing Europe in the Ryder Cup.

    Aberg currently ranks 55th in the DP World Tour’s Race to Dubai. The top 50 available players in the rankings qualify for the tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai the week before November. Aberg is competing in the DP World Tour’s BMW PGA Championship this week and it will be interesting to see how he balances his schedule for the remainder of 2023 as he adjusts to life as golf’s Next Big Thing.

    He's 135th in the FedExCup, so he would need a couple big weeks to qualify for next year’s West Coast Signature Events. At 91st in the world ranking, there’s also a longshot bid for the Masters by making the top 50 in the world ranking by year’s end. Of course, there’s one thing he could do to take care of both.

    Win in the FedExCup Fall. We wouldn’t put it past him.

    5. Nicolai Hojgaard

    This last spot could have gone to any one of the five golfers who will play the FedExCup Fall under Special Temporary Membership. Min Woo Lee, Ryan Gerard, Ryan Fox, Peter Kuest and Hojgaard are all vying to finish with as many or more points as the No. 125 finisher in the FedExCup. If they achieve that, they earn their TOUR card.

    But Hojgaard sticks out among the group.

    He and Lee are fighting for a TOUR card on two fronts. They can gain it through Special Temporary Membership. Hojgaard’s 438 non-member FedExCup points would rank him No. 101 in the current standings. One strong finish this Fall would likely lock up his card.

    But he could also gain full status on the PGA TOUR next season through the DP World Tour.

    The leading ten players (not otherwise exempt) on the season ending's DP World Tour Race to Dubai Rankings will earn PGA TOUR cards for the following season. Hojgaard currently ranks 14th in the standings among those not otherwise exempt (for the full standings, click here). He is playing on the DP World Tour this week at the BMW PGA Championship.

    His finish as a Special Temporary Member will take priority. That means if he finishes inside the top 125 of the FedExCup and inside the top 10 of the DP World Tour eligibility rankings, he will earn his TOUR card through his Special Temporary Membership play. That would then make room for one more player to earn their card through the DP World Tour.

    If that isn’t enough stakes for the next several months, the 22-year-old from Denmark will also make his Ryder Cup debut in two weeks. He was one of Luke Donald’s six captain’s picks and will be the youngest player in the event.

    The stars are aligning for a memorable and career-defining stretch in the rising star’s young career.

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