The Five: Players with a lot on the line at The RSM Classic
6 Min Read
Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Georgia – The RSM Classic is traditionally the PGA TOUR’s sendoff into the holiday season, the final official event of the calendar year. The tournament’s venue, Sea Island, is a fitting venue for such a send-off, offering a tranquil setting that provides a genteel conclusion to the fall portion of the schedule.
This year’s edition of the tournament hosted by World Golf Hall of Famer Davis Love III has a different significance, however. With the PGA TOUR returning to a calendar-year schedule in 2024, The RSM Classic is now the final event of the season. It anchors the schedule instead of coming early in the campaign.
That means players are not only gathered here to enjoy the coastal views, classic courses and fine dining of Georgia’s Golden Isles, but also to ensure they are on the correct side of the FedExCup Fall standings, which will be finalized this week. There are several benchmarks that will have big ramifications for 2024 that players must ensure they land on the correct side of after this week.
In that vein, here are five players to watch this week who have a lot at stake.
1. Carl Yuan
Yuan enters this week on the most important bubble. The 26-year-old rookie from China who’s best known for the incredible gyrations that define his golf swing, currently sits at No. 125 in the FedExCup Fall. The top 125 after this week will be exempt into all Full-Field Events in 2024 and earn a spot in THE PLAYERS Championship. Nos. 126-150 in the FedExCup standings will be conditionally exempt for next year, available to play in tournaments when space is available. Being conditionally exempt makes a player’s schedule for the season more unpredictable and doesn’t give them the luxury of setting their own schedule.
Carl Yuan holes out for eagle for the Shot of the Day
Yuan has made a big move in the FedExCup standings this fall, improving from 151st at the start of the schedule’s post-Playoffs stretch to No. 125. His sixth-place finish at last month’s Sanderson Farms Championship and fourth-place finish last week at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship are his first two top 10s of the year. Last week’s result moved him up nine spots on the FedExCup. He has a six-point lead over No. 126 Henrik Norlander.
2. Paul Haley II
A lot of focus this week will be on the 125th position in the FedExCup Fall standings, and for good reason, but it could be said that the stakes are higher for the players positioned around the 150th spot. For players with no other exemption status, the difference between Nos. 150 and 151 means the difference between playing the PGA TOUR and Korn Ferry Tour in 2024.
Haley is No. 148 in the FedExCup standings, 10 points ahead of No. 151 Satoshi Kodaira. Webb Simpson, who’s exempt on TOUR through 2026, is No. 149 in the FedExCup Fall standings while Charley Hoffman currently holds the 150th spot. Hoffman, a four-time TOUR winner, can always fall back on past champion’s status and sponsor exemptions for starts, and he also has a one-time exemption available for ranking in the top 50 of the PGA TOUR’s career money list.
Haley does not have those options. If he falls outside the top 150 this week, he can go to next month’s PGA TOUR Q-School presented by Korn Ferry in an attempt to improve his status. Only five TOUR cards are available there, however. For players who finish outside the top 150 and don’t regain their card at Q-School, they’ll likely be spending the majority of 2024 on the Korn Ferry Tour or DP World Tour, where a new exemption category was created for players who finish Nos. 126-200 in the FedExCup.
3. Sam Ryder
Ryder is among the best players yet to win on the PGA TOUR. He has seven top-three finishes in his six seasons on TOUR. This has been his best year on TOUR and he’s on the cusp of taking another step up the PGA TOUR’s meritocracy. Ryder is currently 61st in the FedExCup Fall standings. Nos. 51-60 after this week will earn entry into the two Signature Events that follow The Sentry, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Genesis Invitational, via The Next 10.
He's 11 points ahead of No. 61 Mark Hubbard, who also is inspired to get into those two California events. Hubbard went to college at San Jose State University, about 75 minutes from Pebble Beach, and even proposed to his wife on the 18th green. Hubbard will also have a little extra help on the bag this week, as Joel Dahmen’s regular caddie, Geno Bonnalie, is on the bag for this week with Dahmen not in the field.
4. Alex Noren
The Swede finds himself on a couple important bubbles after a strong FedExCup Fall has put him on the comeback trail. Noren, who once ranked in the top 10 of the world and starred on Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup team in 2018, finds himself ranked 64th in the FedExCup Fall standings and 55th in the world ranking after two top-three finishes in his last three events, including a runner-up to Camilo Villegas last week at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship.
Alex Noren’s Round 3 highlights from Butterfield Bermuda
Noren is on the cusp of The Next 10 and also seeking an invitation to the Masters, a tournament he’s played just once in the past four years. The top 50 in the world ranking at year’s end gain entry into that event.
Noren fell out of the top 100 in the world as recently as 2021 and started the FedExCup Fall ranked 101st in the standings. He is moving in the right direction.
5. Ludvig Åberg
Speaking of Swedes, Ludvig Åberg has the opportunity to end his dream year on a high note. Everything has gone right for the No. 1 player in the PGA TOUR University Class of 2023, so it isn’t outside the realm of possibilities.
This week also offers him the rare opportunity to play a PGA TOUR venue with which he already is familiar. Åberg played this event in 2021 after winning the prestigious amateur event at nearby Ocean Forest Golf Club whose past champions include Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Corey Conners, Akshay Bhatia, Beau Hossler, Luke List and Kyle Stanley.
Åberg has already clinched his spot in the top 125 in just 10 PGA TOUR starts as a pro. That’s what seven top 25s will do for you, including a T4 at the John Deere Classic and runner-up at the Sanderson Farms Championship. His worst finish in his last seven worldwide starts is T14, including a win on the DP World Tour.
That’s how Åberg has already played his way onto the cusp of the top 50 in the world ranking. A strong finish this week would earn him a Masters invitation. It also would tighten the race with Eric Cole for the PGA TOUR’s 2023 Rookie of the Year Award. Cole is the prohibitive favorite after being the lone rookie to qualify for the BMW Championship and continuing his good play in the fall with three top-four finishes. Like Åberg, Cole is on the bubble for the top 50 in the world ranking. He enters this week at No. 48.
Åberg’s stock is rising rapidly. This week could just serve as a catalyst for that upward trajectory.
Sean Martin is a senior editor for the PGA TOUR. He is a 2004 graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Attending a small school gave him a heart for the underdog, which is why he enjoys telling stories of golf's lesser-known players. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.