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The Race for No. 125

Doug Kurzeja

Doug Kurzeja

Doug Kurzeja writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

At first glance there doesn't seem to be much difference between PGA Tour players Robert Garrigus and Jimmy Walker. Neither player has won a PGA Tour event or finished among the top 50 on the money list in a given year. The 32-year-old Garrigus has earned $3.24 million in 116 PGA Tour events, making the cut 70 times. He has two top-3s, eight top-10s and 25 top-25s on his resume. Garrigus has never won a professional golf tournament. Walker, 31, has earned $1.48 million in 96 PGA Tour events. He has made the cut 47 times and has two top-10s and 14 top-25s to his credit. The Baylor graduate is a three-time winner on the Nationwide Tour.

Despite having similar careers there is an important difference between the two players in 2010: their exemptions status. A year ago, Walker finished #125 on the money list and, as a top-125 player, earned a full-exempt tour card for this year. Garrigus finished #127 on the list, just $5,393 behind Walker, and after failing to earn a full card at the PGA’s qualifying tournament (commonly know as Q-School) had to settle for the conditional status granted to players that finish between 126 and150 on the previous year's money list.

You can't win if you don't play, and on the PGA Tour how often you play is usually determined by your exemption stats and position in the priority ranking system. The 33-category ranking system can get a bit tedious, but in general, recent winners on Tour get multi-year exemptions and the highest priority ranking, while players with conditional status like Garrigus have the lowest priority ranking. You can find the complete eligibility rankings on the PGA Tour's official web site.

Walker's fully exempt card has allowed him to make 12 appearances in 2010 and earn $209,727 while Garrigus has made the field just five times and earned only $30,838. A dozen players (including Garrigus) have conditional cards for the 2010 season including notables David Duval, Tom Lehman and Rocco Mediate. That group has played in an average of six events and earned only $123,269, while the 12 lowest-rated players with top-125 exemptions (including Walker) have played 10 times and earned $218,209 on average.

So while there won't be much attention on the race for the #125 spot on the money list, for some PGA Tour players landing in the top 125 could mean the difference between a PGA Tour card or a trip to the Nationwide Tour in 2011. So let's take an early look at who needs to step up their game this summer to earn another year on Tour.

ON THE BUBBLE:

Justin Leonard (#132) - $231,982 in 9 events (5 cuts made)
After missing just five cuts all of last season, Leonard has missed four in nine starts to open 2010. The former British Open champion will have a Tour card in 2011, but how he gets it is still up in the air. Leonard is eligible to use a one-time, one-year top-50 career earnings exemption, but the 37-year old would no doubt like to hold onto that option for a while longer. Leonard isn't a big hitter (269.0 yards, ranked 172nd), so his game relies on accuracy and excellent putting. He has struggled to find greens in regulation (61.97%, 161st) but his driving accuracy (72.42%, 7th) and putts per round (28.65, 30th) stats are about where you would expect them to be. Look for Leonard to start rounding into form in May, The Texas native usually plays well in his home state (three career wins) and the Tour will head there for three straight events following next week's Players Championship.

Steve Wheatcroft (#127) - $258,978 in 11 events (4 cuts made)
This is Wheatcroft's second go-round on the PGA Tour; he earned a card for 2007 with a seventh-place finish at Q-School in 2006. Wheatcroft started the year with three straight missed cuts, then finished in the money in three straight appearances (highlighted by a T-3 finish at the Puerto Rican Open), but followed that up with four more missed cuts before making it to the weekend at Quail Hollow. There isn't much to say about Wheatcroft's game. After 40 career starts, it is looking like the former Indiana Hoosier is going to bounce between the Nationwide and PGA Tours for the next couple of years, but doesn't have enough game to regularly compete at golf's highest level.

Matthew Goggin (#119) - $278,170 in 11 events (3 cuts made)
Goggin made $248,000 of his $278,170 in earnings with a T-4 finish at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February. In his other 10 starts he has missed the cut eight times and finished T-42 at the Farmers Insurance Open and T-55 at the Transitions Championship when making the weekend. The Australian has seen both his putting and driving stats decline over the last two seasons. As a result, his all-around ranking fell from #7 in 2008 to #115 in 2009 to #163 so far in 2010. He has managed only five rounds under 70 in 31 attempts this season. Goggin reported some back troubles late in 2009 and may be struggling with an injury. Whatever the reason, the 35-year old's game is clearly heading down under.

Brett Quigley (#144) - $174,900 in 13 events (8 cuts made)
Quigley has finished in the money eight times in 13 events this year but has only one top-25 finish and is averaging just $13,454 per entry. His big season in 2006 is looking more and more like a fluke. That year Quigley managed to finish 13th in scoring average at 70.02 strokes per round despite being ranked 169th in total driving and 100th with a 1.779 putting average. This year Quigley's scoring average has fallen to 71.44 strokes per round (107th) while his total driving (173rd) and putting average (1.791, 102nd) have stayed somewhat similar. He may have just gotten lucky in 2006, and he needs to see some more putts drop this year if he wants the chance to prove otherwise in 2011.

Jonathan Byrd (#121) - $275,975 in 11 events (6 cuts made)
Over the last four seasons Byrd has averaged 24 events, making the cut about 66 percent of the time and earning $1.4 million per year. But 11 starts into his 2010 campaign Byrd finds himself with only $275,975 in earnings and has missed the cut five times, including each of his last three. The Clemson grad picked a bad time for a slump, since his two-year exemption from a win at the 2007 John Deere Classic expires at the end of this year. Byrd has struggled with the putter in 2010, ranking 144th in putting average (1.806) and 95th in putts per round (29.24). There is no reason to believe that Byrd's season is anything more than a poorly timed slump. He showed he still has plenty of game with his T-8 finish at the Transitions Championship in March, and we should expect more big weekends from the 32-year-old this summer.

Jimmy Walker (#136) - $209,727 in 13 events (6 cuts made)
Walker has used his full exempt status to his advantage, appearing in 13 events in 2010 (only Brendon de Jonge and Joe Ogilvie, with 14 appearances, have played more). But Walker has averaged just $16,132 per event this season and been very streaky. After beginning the year by missing four cuts in five attempts, he rattled off five straight money finishes, including three top-25s, and looked like he might have turned a corner. Instead, he returned to his early-season form, missing the cut in each of his last three outings. The Oklahoma native's 2010 stats look very similar to his 2009 numbers. He ranks 100th in the all-around rankings in 2010, a category he finished 108th in a year ago. Walker will need to keep playing frequently and hope he can make enough cuts to earn a card for 2011.

IN TROUBLE:

Greg Kraft (#232) - $7,596 in 12 events (1 cut made)
Kraft earned his first career PGA Tour win, and a two-year exemption, at the Puerto Rican Open in 2008. The 46-year-old has made it to the weekend just once in 11 events in 2010, a T-63 finish at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun. A year ago Kraft made just four cuts in 21 events. The stats look as bad as the results. Kraft is no stranger to the Nationwide Tour and Q-School, and one or both are almost certain to be in his future.

John Mallinger (#225) - $12,524 in 11 events (1 cut made)
Mallinger, the 2007 rookie of the year runner-up, has finished over the $1 million mark in each of his three seasons on the PGA Tour. Many expected a breakout campaign from the 29-year-old in 2010, but instead, he has struggled with a shoulder injury and managed to survive only one cut in 11 events. Mallinger needs to get healthy and regain the form that has earned him 12 career top-10s in 100 career starts.

Matt Bettencourt (#178) - $81,239 in 13 events (6 cuts made)
The California native got off to a slow start during his rookie year in 2009, but a mid-summer surge highlighted by back-to-back top-10s at the Memorial (T-5) and U.S. Open (T-10) in June helped him to a #111 ranking on the money list and secured his card for 2010. Bettencourt is off to another slow start in 2010; his best finish was a T-39 at the Bob Hope Classic in January. That is what happens when you struggle to keep the ball in the fairway (53.38%, 169th in driving accuracy) and limit your ability to reach greens in regulation (57.35%, 183th). But Bettencourt has been strong with the putter in 2010; his 28.19 putts per round ranks 12th and his 1.738 putting average is good for 14th on Tour. If Bettencourt can stay hot with the putter he's a good bet for another summer surge.

Tim Petrovic (#188) - $86,700 in 12 events (4 cuts)
Petrovic has a tendency to be streaky. A few times a year he is able to string together two or three good starts in a row and before you know it he has amassed over $1 million in earnings. But Petrovic has yet to find a groove this season. The 43-year-old has played poorly in almost every facet of his game and has the 165th spot in the all-around rankings to prove it. His only hot streak of the year produced finishes of T63-T30-T50 in consecutive starts and was quickly followed by two more missed cuts. The first warning that Petrovic might not make a run this year came when he missed the cut at the Zurich Classic two weeks ago. TPC Louisiana was the site of Petrovic's only career win (2005) and he entered the tournament on a streak of three straight top-25 finishes in New Orleans.

Cliff Kresge (---) - $0 in 3 events (0 cuts)
Kresge has earned more than $3.7 million in his PGA Tour career and made more than $1 million in a season as recently as 2008. He made three straight cuts to start 2009, capped by a T-10 finish at the FBR Open, but then the wheels came off. He finished the year ranked 149th on the money list and failed to earn a card at Q-School. He's missed three cuts in three attempts in 2010 on the PGA Tour and has finished in the money only once in four tries on the Nationwide Tour. The 41-year-old Kresge will likely need to win to earn a card for 2011. He has never done it before, and there is no reason to believe he can do it now.

Jeff Gove (#231) - $8,015 in 7 events (1 cut made)
Gove earned his fourth promotion to the PGA Tour in 2010 by finishing in the top-25 on the Nationwide Tour Money list a year ago. The Pepperdine alum excels in getting to greens in regulation, and is hitting the putting surface almost 71 percent of the time. Once he gets there, however, it's not clear why Gove was in such a hurry. Gove needed 408 putts to complete 13 rounds this year and his 31.38 putts per round and 1.867 putting average would both rank near the bottom of the PGA Tour rankings if he qualified. Gove's putting leaves a lot to be desired. He'll need to improve on the greens if he wants to stay on the big Tour in 2011.

Robert Garrigus (#205) - $30,838 in 5 events (2 cuts made)
Garrigus has made only five appearances on the PGA Tour this season, finishing in the money twice. In 14 rounds this year he has broken 70 only twice and is averaging 72.39 strokes per round. The 2009 driving distance leader still hits it a long way (295.4-yard average) but has hit only 60.42 percent of greens in regulation in the early going this year, well below his three-year average. Garrigus' game will likely improve if he can find a way to play more consistently but that still might not be enough to earn a card for 2011.

Brad Faxon (#203) - $37,490 in 11 events (3 cuts)
Faxon used his one-time, one-year career top-50 money list exemption for 2010 in the hopes he could find the top-125 again this year. The results so far weren't what Faxon was hoping for. He has missed eight of 11 cuts this year and has earned only $37,490 on the year. Faxon has managed only four rounds under 70 this year and ranks at or near the bottom of the Tour in scoring average (73.23, 182nd), total driving (184th) and all-around rank (184th). Sadly, it looks like Faxon doesn't have enough game to compete on the PGA Tour anymore. The eight-time winner will need to find a way to bide his time for the first seven months of 2011 before moving on to the Champions Tour after turning 50 in August of 2011.
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