Notes: Volatile money list to provide plenty of excitement in finale

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Regular Season No. 1 Michael Putnam could finish No. 1 again with a win at the finale.
September 25, 2013
By Jeff Shain and Michael Curet, PGATOUR.COM

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Troy Merritt had a ready answer when asked if No. 29 on the Tour Finals money list is safe territory to punch his ticket back to the PGA TOUR.

“It is right now,” the former Boise State standout quipped. “If I miss the cut, it might not be.”

There are a lot of moving parts in play as the Finals’ inaugural run comes to an end at the Tour Championship, but Merritt has the basics right.

“It’s hard to really know how it’ll work out,” said Bud Cauley, currently No. 18 in Finals earnings. “From how I understand it, I think I’m fine.”

With seven men above him among those already ticketed for the PGA TOUR via the Tour Regular Season, Cauley holds card No. 11 among players not already qualified.

Tyrone Van Aswegen, just $567 behind Cauley, could be caught if he misses the cut, No. 51 Bhavik Patel places 14th at TPC Sawgrass – and the 13 spots above Patel at Dye’s Valley are claimed by men not too far behind him in the standings.

Highly improbable, but mathematically possible.

“It depends on who makes the big checks this week,” said Steve Wheatcroft, sitting on the bubble at No. 25 among players not already qualified.

“If guys from the back of the pack win and finish second-third-fourth, it’s going to change the [standings] a lot. If the guys who already have their cards make all the money, it might make the number a little less.”

Merritt, for what it’s worth, would be the seventh guy bumped by any big uprising from back in the earnings pack. “A made cut and decent check should be just fine,” he said.

The four-event Finals has demonstrated plenty of upward volatility in its debut run. Even this week, someone with no earnings from the first three stops can secure a PGA TOUR card by placing fourth or higher.

The Finals standings also include the 25 Tour graduates from the Regular Season, now playing for entry priority on next season’s PGA TOUR. After the cutoff is made for the 25 cards given out at the Finals, any remaining Regular Season grads fall in after that.

Currently, 13 Regular Season grads fall below that line. So even though Patel is just $1,584 behind Wheatcroft in Finals earnings, the gap looks far bigger.

NO. 1 STATUS -- Already with enhanced status from finishing No. 1 in the Tour Regular Season, Michael Putnam could not improve his position in the Tour Finals.

Give the Pepperdine grad credit, though. When play starts Thursday at the Tour Championship, he will have teed it up in all four Finals events.

“I’ve locked up my [PGA TOUR] card both ways now,” Putnam quipped as he headed out to the TPC Sawgrass range.

Indeed, Putnam’s earnings in the Finals would place him 10th on the money list if he wasn’t already exempted. He’s recorded top-20 finishes in all three stops, topped by a tie for seventh at the Hotel Fitness Championship.

“I’m trying to keep my edge, still trying to win these golf tournaments,” he said. “I’ve had some good finishes, but I definitely want to get a win. I want to win this week.”

A victory on the Dye’s Valley course might even lift him to No. 1 in Finals earnings, though three guys still could surpass him by finishing second.

“I’ve thought about that a few times,” Putnam said about doubling up at No. 1. “That would be cool. But there’s a lot of guys playing some good golf right now.”

Campbell's best finish on the PGA TOUR in 2013 was a T7 at Sanderson Farms Championship.

CAMPBELL INSPIRED BY STENSON -- Chad Campbell, who missed the FedExCup Playoffs for the first time in his career this season, admits being inspired by FedExCup champion and TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola winner Henrik Stenson.

It was at the TOUR Championship in Atlanta in 2003 where Campbell captured his signature PGA TOUR win, but he slipped to 135 on the PGA TOUR money list this season -- necessitating a trip down to the Tour Finals to try to secure his card. Stenson, prior to yesterday, had his biggest career moment at TPC Sawgrass by winning the 2009 PLAYERS. While Campbell's struggles of late are obvious, Stenson's rise from the doldrums after falling outside of the top 200 in the Official World Rankings in 2012, has been one for the ages.

“I know he’s struggled for a couple of years and I’m happy to see Henrik back playing well,” said Campbell, who managed to only watch about 10 minutes of Sunday’s final round on television. “It’s good to see. You look at something like that and hope that I can do something similar and get my game going in the right direction.”

As Campbell pounded balls on the range Monday afternoon at TPC Sawgrass into a cloudy sky, the 39-year-old Texan, is hoping any questions on his 2013-2014 PGA TOUR playing status are cleared up this week with a finish near the top. It’s a tall order, considering he enters the week ranked No. 108 in The Finals.

“It’s a bit of everything, I believe,” said Campbell of his struggles. “It’s mental and it could be different things in your swing and putting stroke. The last half of this year, Henrik has just played unbelievable golf. It’s just a matter of getting everything clicking and gaining momentum.”

Campbell says he feels like he’s playing better but the results have not necessarily been an indicator. If he doesn’t find “lightning in a bottle” this week, he will remain positive. “I still have a little status on the PGA TOUR next year,” he said. “Yes, it would be very nice to play well this week, but whatever happens, I feel like I’m headed in the right direction.” 

ALVARADO STILL IDLE: Benjamin Alvarado, the Brasil Classic winner sidelined by knee inflammation for the past two months, didn’t get his wish to tee it up in the concluding Finals event.

Alvarado’s doctor still hasn’t given medical clearance to resume competition, a spokesman for the Chilean pro said via email. An MRI showed Alvarado’s left knee hasn’t healed sufficiently to take the stress of walking the course five or six days a week.

Alvarado had surgery on both knees in late 2009, shortly after he turned pro, causing him to miss 14 months of competition. He earned a PGA TOUR promotion by finishing 19th in Regular-Season earnings, but will fall to No. 50 on the list for entry priority next season.

The 28-year-old pro still plans to fly in next week to attend PGA TOUR orientation for new members, the spokesman said.

INJURED LIST: Meantime, a couple of bubble-level competitors are fighting through injuries in their quest for a PGA TOUR card.

Bhavik Patel, who sits just outside the cutoff at No. 26, has been plagued with hip soreness for more than two months. His right wrist also is wrapped to combat tendinitis.

“I’m 22 years old and it ain’t fun,” said Patel, a Tour rookie this season. “But what can you do? It’s tough.”

The California native withdrew after one round of the Mylan Classic and sat out the final three Regular-Season events, possibly costing him a shot at earning promotion via that avenue. Patel was No. 38 on the money list before the Mylan Classic.

“It’s been pretty frustrating,” he said. “I don’t know what caused it; the doctors don’t know. But I don’t really need surgery. I just need rest. I needed one full month of just rest. That didn’t happen.”

One spot ahead at No. 25, bubble-sitter Steve Wheatcroft has been working through a sore Achilles and took a cortisone shot in his left shoulder.

“I’ve been a little banged up,” the Jacksonville resident said, “but the Achilles seems to be working itself out slowly.”

The Achilles was at its worst at the Mylan Classic, contributing to a 76-75 weekend that dropped Wheatcroft from near the lead to a tie for 46th.

“I don’t know what I did to it that week, but I strained it somehow,” he said. “We didn’t have enough time to get the full diagnosis on it, go get an MRI done. Luckily it’s kind of gone away a little bit on its own.”

LOAR STANDS PAT: Edward Loar, whose 65 two Sundays ago in Columbus lifted him all the way to runner-up at the Nationwide Children’s Championship, will sit out the last Finals stop after taking his name out of the lineup.

“I weighed all the scenarios and factored in the money list and the priority rankings,” said Loar, a winner in Louisiana last March and currently No. 6 on the Finals money list.

“I haven’t been home for an extended period since before the start of the season when we went to Panama. My most important role is to be a husband and a father, and the best thing for me was to be at home and be a dad to my children. I’m sure a lot of people will be able to understand that.”

Loar is the third man among the top seven in Finals earnings to give himself an extra week’s break. No. 1 Seung-Yul Noh allowed himself a trip home to South Korea after winning in Columbus, and Patrick Cantlay will miss his third Finals event to rest a stress fracture in his back.