The chase for the top 125 and 30 is almost over. The PGA Tour's best have one more tournament to get into the Tour Championship and players on the bubble to secure their card for next year. It's always fun to pick apart some of the names that are (and are not) in the cut.
This week I'll pick apart a few of the names and positions in the money list that might surprise you in this week's edition of The Numbers Game.
Side Note: If you'd be interested in writing The Numbers Game, please read this forum thread on the topic. Thank you.
Top 30 - Outside Looking In
Early in the year, Camilo Villegas was probably talked about more than any other golfer, outside of Tiger and Phil Mickelson. The young Columbian had a flair and energy to him that the tour needed. After the quick start, he's been very average. Villegas has made just over half his cuts (10 of 19) since the Players Championship with only one top 10. Villegas needs a great showing at the Chrysler Championship to get into the top 30.
A couple of Ryder Cup members, Scott Verplank and Chris DiMarco, are also just outside the cut for the Tour Championship. I was both surprised and disappointed. Both need a strong finish this week to get to around $2 million in earnings, which is where the cutoff was last year. Verplank and DiMarco easily made it into the year end tournament in 2005. I'm hoping that one of these two gritty competitors will make it in.
Tim Clark was pushed out just last week by Joe Durant's win. Here's a guy who looked like he was going to win the Masters back in April… and now he has suffered from a second-half slump like Villegas. From May on, Clark has only one top 10 and one last shot to make it above the $2 million mark.
Top 30 - Inside Looking Out
Ernie Els was looking iffy for a while. He couldn't find his groove… at least the groove that we would expect from Els. His third-place finish in the Open Championship and a fifth at the AmEx Championship helped get him to his current place at 30th. He can't be comfortable with the previously mentioned players right on his tails.
There are a couple guys I was surprised to see on the positive side of the top 30 cut. First was Joe Durant. The win last week vaulted him from 66th to 29th. I probably shouldn't have been surprised though. Durant's two tournaments before the FUNAI Classic produced a playoff loss and a T6. In these last three tournaments alone Durant has amassed $1.3 million in earnings.
The other one was Ben Curtis. Talk about feast or famine… Curtis only has two top 10s this year. Both were wins. The first came at the Booz Allen Classic and the second was at the 84 Lumber Classic. Outside of those two wins Curtis won just a little over $400,000. A lot of us were labeling Curtis a bust. This year he's proven that he still has flashes of that kid that won the British Open. The question is, can he flash brilliance more consistently?
The Top 125 - Old and New Faces
Back in 2002 and 2003 Chris Riley won over $2 million each year. Now he is struggling to make it into the top 125. Currently at 148, Riley needs a great showing to get there. The former Ryder Cup player was supposed to be one of the up and coming players on tour in America. If it doesn't happen for him this week Riley will need to somehow rediscover the magic he posessed over 3 years ago.
David Duval is a guy everyone has been watching all year. I've been pulling hard for him and, earlier in the year, it was starting to look like Duval was turning a corner. He was making cuts and winning some money. He even finished pretty strong in the U.S. Open, the toughest test in golf. I was hoping to see him this week, but Duval is taking a pass. You'd think he was crazy and at least give himself a shot at getting near the top 125, but at least he has some options. Duval has two more years to fix his game and get back on track… and we'll all still be watching.
You might hear the name Arjun Atwal and think "Who?" Well, I watched him a bit last year and thought he might be on his way to bigger things. Atwal led the tour in putting last year and was third in birdie average. He also won nearly $1 million last year. 2006 has been more of a struggle though. Atwal is 137th in money this year and needs a good finish this week to keep his card. Dropping to 47th in putting and 111th in birdie average hasn't helped though.
One other familiar face just inside the cut line is Paul Azinger. Paul has played a pretty good amount of tournaments this year (29) with the intention of keeping his card. Now, with ABC out of action next year as a golf broadcasting channel, it seems like a good idea. He's at 122 right now and should be safe, but you never know. Maybe CBS will hire him to complement Nick Faldo and Ian Baker-Finsh if a few other players push him out.
I think that someone is going to move up into the top 30. That means that Ernie better win enough to push himself above Durant or Pernice. With guys like Clark, Mike Weir, and Scott Verplank on his heels, he can't rest.
As for the 125, anything can happen. I'll be more interested in this cut line than the other one. It is more meaningful to the players down there than the players trying to get into the rich Tour Championship.