Tour Insider: Pressure rising as time runs out to move into top 25

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Michael Putnam is focused on holding onto the No. 1 spot on the money list.
July 05, 2013

Michael Putnam has the luxury of knowing where he’ll be come October.

The new PGA TOUR season opens in northern California, followed by a week in Las Vegas. Perhaps a trip out to Georgia’s Sea Island before Thanksgiving. Hawaii in January.

“I’ve looked at it all, believe me,” said the Washington native, who has spent the past month atop the Tour’s money list.

For Putnam and perhaps a dozen others, the chief objective of a Tour season already stands accomplished. Even so, having a PGA TOUR card on reserve doesn’t mean there isn’t a higher goal left to attain.

Others, meanwhile, may find themselves lowering their sights.

The two-thirds mark of the regular season, with a final seven-week blitz left before the first 25 PGA TOUR cards are given out and the field is set for the inaugural Finals series, seems a natural point to reassess.

The roster generally divides into three groups. For a good many, the aim doesn’t change. Another top-10 finish or two down the stretch would put them squarely in the mix to be among the first wave of cards.

Some players, though, aren’t so concerned about that status as they are to move inside the top 75 that will bring a second opportunity in the Finals. Then there are those dozen at the top of the heap, where catching Putnam for No. 1 becomes the aim.

“It’s important to keep your foot on the pedal,” said Chesson Hadley, No.3 on the money list after last month’s hometown win in Raleigh.

Objectives can change fast, too. Scott Parel stood 153rd on the money list as he arrived at the Air Capital Classic in Wichita, Kan. A victory there moved him inside the top 15.

• Who’s in?: Projecting a benchmark of $142,000 to stand safe, 11 players can join Putnam in eyeing the PGA TOUR’s fall start – Edward Loar, Hadley, Ben Martin, Alex Aragon, Will Wilcox, Tim Wilkinson, Danny Lee, Benjamin Alvarado, Brendon Todd, Kevin Kisner and Jim Renner.

The benchmark is based on an average of $6,750 per scheduled event, a ratio that has held fairly steady for the past four men to finish No. 25.

All but Wilkinson, Lee and Renner have won events this year. Both Wilkinson and Lee have compensated by producing a half-dozen top-15 finishes; Renner’s tie for ninth last week marked his fourth top-10.

“Winning’s still a goal,” Wilkinson said. “It’ll be very difficult to win the money list without winning.”

Finishing No. 1 on the money list brings two added perks – the top spot in the graduating class, exempt from the quarterly reshuffle in priority status, as well as a berth in THE PLAYERS Championship.

But it could be tough to catch Putnam, the Tour’s only double winner thus far whose $386,684 tops the list. That’s nearly $123,000 ahead of No. 2 Loar – enough to stay in first even if Loar captures next week’s Utah Championship.

“It’s so important to be No. 1 on that money list,” said Putnam, who has had two brief stays previously on the PGA TOUR. He hasn’t missed a Tour stop yet this season, even passing up a chance at U.S. Open qualifying.

“I don’t have to hope to get into the big tournaments. I’ve never had the ability to play a full schedule out there where I can play any tournament I want. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

For the other 24 who get early cards, priority status will be determined by how well they play over the four-week Finals series. “I guess the goal is just to keep playing well,” Hadley said.

• Building momentum: Hadley has been the hottest player of the past two months, preceding his victory in Raleigh with a trio of top-6 finishes. Alex Prugh doesn’t have a trophy to show off, but a similar run has taken him from off the radar to No. 18.

The Las Vegas pro began May outside the top 200 in earnings, with five missed cuts in six starts. But he found his footing with a tie for 23rd at the BMW Charity Pro-Am, then reeled off three straight top-6 finishes that rocketed him up he board.

Prugh tied for second in Mexico, two shots behind Putnam, then finished sixth at the Mid-Atlantic Championship and third at the Air Capital Classic.

• One-week magic: Like Parel, Mark Anderson (BMW Charity) showed how a victory can change perspectives when he vaulted up from 133rd on the money list.

Tom Hoge, meantime, stands No. 30 largely on the strength of his runner-up finish behind Anderson. It remains his only top-20 placing in 2013.

• Whatever happened…: Of the seven players who came closest to PGA TOUR cards last year before falling short, only Putnam is back in the mix this season.

Camilo Benedetti, who missed by $940 when the dust settled at TPC Craig Ranch, now stands 44th on the money list. Hudson Swafford (27th) is down at No. 48; Joseph Bramlett (28th) has fallen to No. 72.

The others: Adam Hadwin (No. 67), Cliff Kresge (No. 136) and Paul Claxton (No. 117).

Remember, though, that circumstances still can change quickly – a win in the next few stops would send any of them immediately into the top 30.