Intriguing Money Lines at Chrysler
This week is mostly about money.
The Chrysler Championship is the final full-field event of the year, a time for players to pay more attention to dollars and cents than birdies and bogeys. The bottom 120 spots on the money list will be determined, with significant stops down the ladder at No. 30 (TOUR Championship), No. 40 (Masters invitation), No. 125 (full status next year) and No. 150 (conditional status).
Azinger has been down this road before.
Two years ago, he was No. 123 on the money list and seemingly in good shape until a bogey on his 17th hole and a three-putt bogey on his final hole that caused him to miss the cut by one shot. He screamed in disgust as he walked off the course, and the real agony set in two days later when he wound up at No. 126.
He's trying not to pay too much attention to the money list, and that much was clear when he picked up a copy of it on a table and casually scanned the players around him.
'Is it that close?' he asked. 'Are you kidding me?'
Azinger is just under $22,000 ahead of Bubba Dickerson (No. 125), but at least he has a chance. Dickerson, a former U.S. Amateur champion, is the third alternate this week and might not get a chance to tee it up. If any of the three players behind him -- Brian Bateman, John Cook or Mark Calcavecchia -- so much as make the cut, Dickerson loses his card.
'I've got one week to play good,' Azinger said. 'It's in my hands.'
How much does each shot matter? No sooner had Azinger put down his copy of the money list than he recalled Las Vegas two weeks ago, when he had a 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole. He missed it, which cost him about $20,000.
'I know I'm one shot away from not being in this position,' he said.
The nail-biting starts Thursday on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, a worthy test for the winner, a roller coaster for those who are on the various bubbles:
Top 30 -- Joe Durant's victory at Disney moved him up 37 spots to No. 29 on the money list, and he looks fairly comfortable with a $185,018 lead on the guy at No. 31 (Tim Clark). Ernie Els is between them, playing for the first time since he finished fifth at the American Express Championship last month. Els has played Innisbrook once, but calls it his favorite PGA TOUR course in Florida. Clark has missed the cut twice and finished 11th in Tampa.
Top 40 -- A month ago, Troy Matteson only wanted to keep his PGA TOUR card. Then he won in Las Vegas, tied for second at Disney and now has Georgia on his mind. Going to East Lake for the TOUR Championship would require at least a third-place finish, but what Matteson really wants is a trip to Augusta National.
Here's where the ulcers come in. Matteson was alone in second at Disney until a bogey on the last hole. The tie cost him $92,000, sending him from 36th to 42nd on the money list, an example of how every shot counts in the final few weeks.
Tour rookies Camilo Villegas (No. 37) and Nathan Green (No. 38) appear to be safe. Vaughn Taylor is at No. 39, feeling even more pressure since he lives in Augusta.
On the bubble is Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, who gave up at least $35,500 (last-place money) when he withdrew from the American Express Championship last month to attend Byron Nelson's funeral.
Had he not left Europe early, Lehman would be No. 36 on the money list.
Top 125 -- The bubble belongs to Dickerson, and it could burst Thursday if three more players don't withdraw.
It would be awful if a guy at No. 125 on the money list doesn't get a chance to play in the final tournament, but like everything else in golf, players have no one to blame but themselves.
Dickerson has played 32 times this year and has only three top 10s, which explains why he is so low on the pecking order for getting into this tournament. And he did himself no favors last week at Disney. After opening with rounds of 66-68, he closed with 72-78 to tie for 71st and move up only two spots.
Cook is at No. 127 and has the advantage of getting a sponsor's exemption. The other exemption went to Duffy Waldorf at No. 130, both reaping the rewards of supporting the TOUR for a combined 44 years.
Top 150 -- Henrik Bjornstad is the first PGA TOUR player from Norway, but maybe not much longer. He is at No. 150 by a scant $3,401 over Tag Ridings, and Bjornstad is in a worse predicament than Dickerson as the seventh alternate.
Ridings has come through in the clutch before at Tampa. Two years ago, he was at No. 190 when he birdied seven of the last 10 holes for a 64 in the final round of the Chrysler Championship, tied for 11th and earned just enough money to finish at No. 125.
Conditional status is not the end of the world. Guys who finish between No. 126 and No. 150 drop in the pecking order behind those who earn cards through Q-school or the Nationwide Tour. Briny Baird finished at No. 126 a year ago and got into 25 tournaments this year, earning enough to be No. 100 to secure his card.
Finish outside the top 150, however, and punch a ticket to the second stage of Q-school, or spend next year either begging for exemptions or chopping it around the Nationwide Tour.
Now that's pressure.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar
DOHA, Qatar – Eddie Pepperell, Gregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.
Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.
One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.
Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.
Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.
Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.
He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.
''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.
''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.
''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.
''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”
Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.
''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.
''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''
Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.
Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic
Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Tweets by GCTigerTracker
Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats
The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.
How to watch:
Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET
Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET
Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)
Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)
Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.
Notables in the field:
• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.
• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.
• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.
• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.
• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.
• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green.
• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.
• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.
• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13).
Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand
CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.
Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.
''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.
''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''
Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.
Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.
''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.
Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.
Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.
''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.
She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.
Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.