Tournaments within the tournament
John Deere Classic impact felt in FedExCup, WGCs, majors and, yes, Tokyo 2020
July 11, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- This week, Troy Merritt sits at 127 in the FedExCup standings. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
SILVIS, Ill. – Francesco Molinari is keen to represent Italy in the next Olympics, Tokyo 2020, and he can take the first steps at this week’s John Deere Classic. Hard to believe, but this month marks the start of the two-year Men’s Qualification period.
Not that he’s thinking about it.
“If I focus on Ryder Cup, Olympics, majors and stuff like that, it’s harder to do the day-to-day things properly,” said Molinari, whose world ranking has soared after recent victories at the Quicken Loans National (by eight shots) and the European Tour’s BMW Championship.
The July 1 start of the Men’s Qualification period, which was news to every player asked about it Tuesday, underlines one of the big truths of the PGA TOUR, which is that in any given week players are competing with different agendas. They want to get to Tokyo, eventually, but also the majors, the World Golf Championships, and, most crucially with just six weeks (and eight events) remaining, the four-tournament FedExCup Playoffs.
“We didn’t have all this stuff,” said Bob Tway, 59, an eight-time PGA TOUR winner who is at TPC Deere Run this week with his TOUR pro son, Kevin. “We didn’t have the Playoffs. And how you got into the majors was totally different. Normally if you won, you got into everything; that’s not always the case now. Now it’s all about getting into the top 30.”
Here’s what they’re playing for at the Deere:
Knowing your FedExCup number is like scoreboard-watching. You don’t want to obsess about it, but you want to know where you stand, just the same. Cracking the top 30 qualifies players for the season-ending TOUR Championship, but to make it to the end, you’ve got to reach the start.
The top 125 six weeks from now will reach the Playoffs opener, THE NORTHERN TRUST at Ridgewood (N.J.) Country Club, Aug. 23-26, and maintain full TOUR status for 2018-19.
“I’m 128 now,” said Canada’s Nick Taylor, who is coming off a T56 finish at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier last week. “If you go into each week with the goal to win, it takes care of itself, but I’m on the bubble for keeping my card, so it’s kind of on my mind.”
He’s not alone.
“I’m 127,” said Troy Merritt, who not only knew his number, he knew which players jumped ahead of him in the standings (Sam Saunders, Harold Varner III, Joel Dahmen and Talor Gooch) while he attended his brother’s wedding in Minneapolis in lieu of playing the Greenbrier.
“Summers are a grind,” Merritt added. “I spent two days at home in June. Another 80 FedExCup points would put me at 380, and I think I would be safe to take next week off.”
Ryan Palmer said his priorities, and most everyone else’s priorities, are clear-cut.
“It’s about getting in the Playoffs, because if you don’t make the Playoffs, you don’t have a card next year,” he said.
Molinari knew he was a lock for the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, Aug. 2-5, after winning the BMW, which put his world ranking well inside the top 50. (He’s 15th.)
But on this side of the Atlantic? That was a concern, as the 35-year-old Italian was languishing at 123 in FedExCup. Then he won the Quicken Loans, rocketing up the standings. Now up to 43rd, he’s in the best shape of his career to finally make the season-ending TOUR Championship.
“I was right on the bubble so the main thing was to get some FedEx points and make sure I was in the Playoffs,” said Molinari, who played in the 2010 and 2012 Ryder Cups. “Hopefully, if I keep playing like this, I’ll play my way to East Lake. I’ve never been there. I’ve watched it on TV lots of times and I would love to play there. People have told me it should suit my game.
“It’s one of those things to kind of tick off the list if you get there,” he added. “At least once in my career I’d like to qualify for it, and hopefully it’s this year.”
The last WGC in Akron
Zach Johnson, the 2012 Deere winner, is a native Iowan with the dual role of player and host this week. He’s got a lot on his plate. Big picture, he’s trying to get to East Lake while also getting into position to make his sixth U.S. Ryder Cup team. But the 12-time TOUR winner has become aware of something else: At 51st in the world, he’s one ranking spot away from cracking the field for the final WGC-Bridgestone at Firestone South. (It moves to Memphis next year.)
“I haven’t missed one of those since I’ve been on TOUR,” said Johnson. “I really like that golf course.” (He should; he finished second to Hideki Matsuyama at Firestone South last year.)
Tiger Woods, the eight-time WGC-Bridgestone champion, is 69th in the world and also has made no secret of his desire to crack the top 50 and get back to Akron.
When it comes to golf’s magic numbers, there’s 59 (on the scorecard), there’s 125, 100, 70 and 30 (FedExCup Playoffs), and then there’s 50 (Official World Golf Ranking).
“After you make the Playoffs, the second priority is getting in the top 50 in the world,” said Palmer, who is 131st. “I was in there for three or four years, and I’d like to get back there.”
Molinari’s win at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm not only has him in great shape to make a run at East Lake, it gave him a berth in the 2019 Masters. (He was T20 at Augusta this year.)
Kelly Kraft said there was no mistaking what he’d done with his second-place finish at The Greenbrier. He’d booked a trip to The Open, his first, at Carnoustie. His wife, Tia, will bring the passports to the John Deere, and they’ll head across the pond on the tournament’s charter.
“They had the trophy out there on the first tee, the Claret Jug,” Kraft said of the Greenbrier.
There’s one spot left at the Deere for the highest top-five finisher (and ties) not already qualified. Last year it went to winner Bryson DeChambeau, who was typical of last-minute entries. Asked if he was packed for The Open, he said, “I hope so. My agent is helping me out with that. I don't know.”
After The Open, it’s on to the PGA Championship, which has its own qualification criteria.
Welcome to late-season life on TOUR. It’s a whirlwind.