MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The high drama of the PGA Tour’s postseason has always undermined the relative success of the playoffs.
Meaningful golf at a time of year when only football matters is the postseason’s secret sauce, and reaching the Tour Championship always comes with all kinds of perks, with the FedExCup champion’s $18 million payday being the main motivation. But the real drama was largely an illusion.
The top 125 who have historically qualified for the playoffs have also secured their status for next season, meaning that other than qualifying for the season finale, the only real stress test was moving up the points list to earn more money.
Full-court results from the FedEx St. Louis Championship. Jude
That changed this week as the circuit prepares to transition to a signature event schedule next year, featuring limited fields and mostly no-cut tournaments.
Next year’s eight signature events – The Sentry, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, The Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship, Memorial and Travelers Championship – will feature fields of 70 to 80 players. The primary qualification for these tournaments will be to be in the top 50 from the previous season’s points list.
That cut comes Sunday at the FedEx St. Louis Championship. Jude.
Again, there have always been bubbles and projections surrounding the postseason narrative, but the focus on this year’s top 50 runs much deeper.
Consider that exactly 3.11 points currently separate No. 50 (Nick Hardy) from No. 51 (Alex Smalley). That’s the difference between a 13th-place finish and a 14th-place finish at the Honda Classic – a bump, a bump, a bounce that stayed at the finish instead of nestling in the rough. This one hit to next year’s redesigned schedule plan will be quantitatively huge.
If the No. 50 on this year’s points list finishes 10th in all eight signature events in 2024, he will earn 1,400 points. By comparison, No. 51 on the points list would earn 600 points if he finished 10th in eight comparable full-court events. That’s the difference between finishing the regular season 14th on the points list – essentially guaranteed a trip to the Tour Championship – and finishing 71st (based on this year’s list) and not making the playoffs.
There’s also the money gap between signature events and their field-wide counterparts. The eight designated ’24 events will play for $155 million in purses (based on ’23 calculations). The eight comparable full-field tournaments – Sony Open, Farmers Insurance Open, WM Phoenix Open, The Classic (formerly the Honda Classic), AT&T Byron Nelson, Valero Texas Open, RBC Canadian Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic – will offer $69.7 million in combined wallets .
No one on next year’s tour, whether they’ve qualified for the signature events or not, is going to walk away poor, but the divide between the haves and have-nots has never been clearer.
Worth noting: Six of next season’s signature events will not have a cut. The three designated stops that will have cuts – The Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial – will see the top 50 and ties and anyone within 10 shots of the lead play over the weekend. Being guaranteed four rounds and a payday is a cushion that cannot be ignored, and this new reality is not lost on players.
“Normally, top 30 is the big limit. There are many rewards for the top 30. This gets you into all the big, all the big events. That’s where you really want to be. You still want to be there. Obviously, that gives you a chance to win the FedExCup, that’s what it’s all about,” Justin Rose said. “But I think [top] 50 is a really important number. It’s been on my mind all year, just to make sure you’re playing at a level where next year you can build a schedule that’s to your liking and without compromise. [Top] 50 was a really big number, I think, for a lot of guys on Tour this year.”
That build-up ends on Sunday, with no shortage of potential winners and losers.
Saturday’s projections featured just two player trades: Cam Davis moved into a tie for 12th thanks to a 69 in the third round, jumping from 62nd to a projected 49th and moving up No. 47 Mackenzie Hughes to start the week; in the 51st.
“I don’t really want to see that until after tomorrow’s round. I’m going to put my head down, try to make as many birdies as I can and see what happens in the end,” Davis said of his top-50 status.
Harris English had been projected outside the top 50 all week after the start of the post-42 season, but rallied late on Saturday, playing his final 11 holes in 3-under par to move into 49th on the projected list. Patrick Rogers (No. 42) also slipped after opening rounds of 70-72, but returned to the top 50 with a 66 on Saturday.
Based on last year’s list, anything around 960 points should be safe to advance to next week’s BMW Championship and maintain a coveted spot in the top 50. That means every player from No. 41 (Andrew Putnam with 914 points ) and below will be keeping a close eye on the scoreboard on Sunday.
In playoff history, the consequences have never been greater.
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