AUSTIN, Texas – Every shot matters every week on the PGA Tour. It only becomes more evident during certain times of the year, such as the cutoff for finishing in the top 50 for the Masters.
Min Woo Lee is one case study.
His chances of winning The Players Championship were long gone when he reached the 18th hole. Lee had a 12-foot par putt that he missed, dropping him into a seven-way tie for sixth place. If he had made the par putt, he would have been in a two-way tie for fifth.
Turns out that was a difference of being assured a spot in the Masters and having to sweat it out at the Dell Match Play this week. Lee is No. 47 in the world, and this is the final week for those not eligible for the Masters to get into the top 50.
If he had made that putt, he would be No. 40.
Lee is not alone. Taylor Montgomery was tied for fourth at one point late Sunday at Sawgrass until a bogey on the 15th, a double bogey on the 16th and two balls in the water for a quintuple bogey on the 17th. He dropped all the way down to a tie for 55th, made no gains in the ranking and comes into Match Play at No. 57 in the world.
According to a world ranking guru known as “Nosferatu” on Twitter, Montgomery will need to reach the quarterfinals to have any chance of cracking the top 50.
Among those on the Masters bubble at the Match Play is Keith Mitchell at No. 45. He would figure to be a lock if he gets out of group play and might make it even if he doesn't.
Outside the top 50 along with Montgomery are Lucas Herbert (56), Denny McCarthy (58) and Rickie Fowler (59). Fowler, who would be in the 64-man field even without LIV Golf players being ineligible, will need to advance to the quarterfinals to have a mathematical chance of reaching the top 50.
Fowler is in the same Match Play group as Jon Rahm, Billy Horschel and Mitchell. He said he would play the Valero Texas Open next week if he doesn't make the top 50 in the world. The winner of the Texas Open is the last player into the field at Augusta.
“Doing whatever I need to do to give myself the best chance to be in Augusta,” he said.
The absence of LIV Golf players at the Match Play has made clear what everyone suspected all along — the World Golf Championships were part of the International Federation of PGA Tours, but it was the PGA Tour running the show.
That's why nine players from LIV Golf who were among the top 66 in the world last week (Justin Rose and Justin Thomas chose not to play), were not eligible.
Also declared ineligible was Thomas Pieters, who joined LIV this year but was not a PGA Tour member when he left.
The PGA Tour said players wishing to enter are “subject to acceptance by the host tour” and must meet the eligibility requirements.
As for Pieters not being eligible — assuming he even wanted to play — the tour said that “any player who has participated in an event or series of events ... that the membership has been informed is not authorized by the PGA Tour is ineligible to compete in any event sanctioned by the PGA Tour" for one year from the final round of the unauthorized event.
Of the 64-man field at Austin Country Club, 11 of them would not be playing if not for LIV.
There was plenty of weeping around Webb Simpson when he finished the Valspar Championship, and it had nothing to do with his first top 10 in some 16 months.
Simpson and longtime caddie and friend Paul Tesori decided to end their partnership, which included a U.S. Open title at Olympic Club in 2012 and The Players Championship, along with three Ryder Cup teams.
“I could never have done this without Paul by my side. Not only has he been my caddie and swing coach, but one of my best friends in the world,” Simpson said.
Equally surprising was Tesori immediately going to work for Cameron Young, who at No. 17 in the world is a rising star in golf. Young had switched caddies last summer by bringing on Chad Reynolds, and he was runner-up in the British Open at St. Andrews.
YEAR OF THE 4-IRON
For all the talk about a bomb-and-gauge era of power golf, some of the best shots through three months of the year have come with a 4-iron.
It started with Xander Schauffele making an albatross at The American Express, the rarest shot in golf.
A week later, Max Homa hit 4-iron to 15 feet for a birdie that sent him to victory in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Then it was Justin Rose's turn. In the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he hit 4-iron from a fairway bunker left of the fairway on the par-5 sixth to 8 feet for eagle. Rose also went on to win.
The best might have come from Tyrrell Hatton at The Players Championship. From deep in the trees right of the 18th fairway, he slashed a 4-iron toward the water with enough of a cut that it settled some 20 feet away for his fifth straight birdie.
That helped him finish alone in second behind Scottie Scheffler, which paid him $2.275 million.
Jordan Spieth nearly joined the mix when he hit 4-iron on the par-3 17th at the Valspar Championship to 6 feet. Needing to make the putt to tie for the lead, he missed.
MONEY FOR EVERYONE
The PGA Tour in 1986 played for a total purse of just over $25 million. This week alone, five tours under the PGA Tour umbrella are playing for nearly $27 million.
The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play leads the way with $20 million. The opposite-field event at Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, has a $3.8 million purse.
The PGA Tour Champions are playing for $2 million at The Galleri Classic in California, while the Korn Ferry Tour event in Georgia has a $1 million purse. The PGA Tour Latinoamerica is in Argentina with a prize fund of $175,000.
The World City Championship on the Asian Tour is offering four spots to the British Open for the leading players not already eligible. That would explain why Ian Poulter traveled from Arizona to Hong Kong — with a LIV event next week in Florida — to play. Also in the field is Henrik Stenson, already eligible by winning the Open at Royal Troon in 2016. ... Danny Lee is the latest player to cash in quickly after joining Saudi-funded LIV Golf, winning in Tucson for a $4 million payoff. In his previous eight seasons on the PGA Tour, he had 19 top-10 finishes and 72 missed cuts. ... The LPGA Tour's Q-Series that determines full cards is going to a six-round event (with a cut after 72 holes). It previously was two 72-hole events. The Q-Series will be played Nov. 30 to Dec. 5 in Alabama.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Matt Kuchar needs to win three matches at the Dell Match Play to break the record of 36 matches won set by Tiger Woods.
“I don’t have any problems with anyone, and I try not to make a big deal out of it. I’m going to be there because I earned it, because I deserve it, and I’m going to enjoy it. I hope the rest of the guys do the same.” — Sergio Garcia on the Masters Club dinner for past champions.