Insider: Sense of urgency being felt as Stadion Classic at UGA nears

Halleran/Getty Images
Dawie van der Walt won't have much time off in the next several months.
May 01, 2013
Jeff Shain,

The pace is picking up.

In previous years, the Tour would be just starting to hit its stride as the calendar turned to May. After a far-flung opening in some far-off locales, now was the time for pros to get into a rhythm as the travel miles began to compress.

The schedule hasn’t changed all that much in 2013, yet there seems a greater sense of urgency as the tour completes its annual fortnight in Georgia. The introduction of the new four-event Finals series has reduced the regular season to 21 events – and it’s now one-third complete.

“It’s a little bit more of a sprint this year,” said Hudson Swafford, defending champion at this week’s Stadion Classic at UGA who came up just short last year of earning a PGA TOUR promotion.

Said Will MacKenzie: “It’s getting back into the States and starting to pick up. … You want to just get into the top 25. That’s the key.”

Just 14 stops remain for players to earn a card by finishing among the top 25 on the money list. Another 25 cards await in the Finals, where everyone among the top 75 in earnings go up against the PGA TOUR’s Nos. 126-200 in FedExCup points.

At the one-third mark, here’s how things are taking shape…

Who’s in: The cutback to 21 events skews the raw numbers, but based on a per-event average that has held reasonably steady in the past four years, it appears Edward Loar and Benjamin Alvarado can start mapping out a fall PGA TOUR calendar.

Loar is the only man with three top-5 finishes on his chart, including a victory at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open that vaulted him to the top of the money list. At $191,483, his earnings would have placed him inside the top 25 even in some years that had 25 or 26 events.

Alvarado, who held no status to begin the year, tied for fourth in his native Chile on a sponsor exemption. Three weeks later, a late invitation to the Brasil Classic changed his fortunes when he claimed a one-stroke victory.

Projections are based on an average of $6,750 per scheduled event for No. 25, a ratio that has held fairly steady over the past four years. Over 21 events, that comes out to $141,750.

Will Wilcox, Patrick Cantlay, Brice Garnett and Kevin Kisner are all within $20,000 of that target, likely needing just one more top-10 finish to keep them inside The 25 all the way to the finish.

Doing everything but … : Garnett is an unusual case, as the only man from the aforementioned group to put himself within arm’s length of a PGA TOUR card without winning an event.

The Missouri pro came closest in Chile, finishing a shot behind Kisner. He also was alone in third at the WNB Golf Classic, three shots behind the fast-closing Alex Aragon, and tied for sixth in Brazil.

Garnett ranks ninth on Tour in scoring average, No. 4 in total birdies, 15th in putting and 18th in ballstriking. His final-round average of 70.6, though, is more than a shot higher than his other rounds (69.4).

Hangover effect: None of the three men who lost their grip on PGA TOUR cards on last season’s final day got off to a quick start in 2013, though two show signs of hitting their stride.

Camilo Benedetti, who came up $940 shy in the final tally, began his season with four missed cuts before seeing a weekend round. Last week’s tie for eighth at the South Georgia Classic was his first top-10 of the season.

In a similar vein, Swafford’s tie for 11th last week marked his first top-30 finish of the season. Joseph Bramlett has been most consistent of the trio, without a top-10 but five finishes of 26th or better. He stands 40th on the money list.

Why wait?: Two spots inside The 25 are guaranteed to open up in coming weeks as Scott Brown and Jordan Spieth, both now with PGA TOUR status, fall out of the ranks.

Brown earned a two-year PGA TOUR exemption when he won last month’s Puerto Rico Open, played opposite the WGC Cadillac Championship. Spieth was a shot back in second, then tied for seventh at the Tampa Bay Championship the next week to secure special temporary status.

Toughest track: That would be Kinderlou Forest Golf Club, longer at 7,781 yards than all but two courses on either the PGA TOUR or European Tour. All four rounds of last week’s South Georgia Classic produced scoring averages above par – the only tournament to do so.

Kinderlou Forest also lays statistical claim to the toughest round thus far, when strengthening breezes lifted the scoring average to 73.49.

Players, though, might lean to the final round of the WNB Classic, played amid West Texas winds that gusted as high as 35 mph. Alex Aragon’s 66 allowed him to overcome a five-shot deficit for the win.

Nothing extra: The tour has yet to see a playoff this year, ranking as the fifth-longest start to a season without going to extra holes. If the Stadion Classic doesn’t go extra holes, it’ll tie last year and the 2000 season as third-longest.

The deepest a Tour season has gone without extra holes was in 1997, when the first 17 events were won in regulation. That came to an end at the Wichita Open, as Ben Bates prevailed in a four-man playoff.

Going back to Justin Bolli’s win at last year’s finale, the tour has gone eight consecutive events without a playoff.

Unrewarded consistency: Marco Dawson is working on a streak of 16 consecutive rounds of par or better since missing the cut at the season opener in Panama. It has yet to reward him with a top-10 finish, topped by a tie for 13th in Louisiana.

Likewise, Daniel Chopra had a run of 14 such par-or-better rounds until a final-day 75 in Midland. His best finish, too, was a share of 13th.

Next checkpoint: The two-thirds mark will come after the United Leasing Championship, set for June 27-30 in Newburgh, Ind.

That’s also the final open week of the regular season, with seven consecutive events to follow to determine who makes the Finals. Then it really comes down to a sprint.