COLUMBUS, Ohio – Alternates from U.S. Open sectional qualifiers were never more important as they were this year.
The USGA held back six spots from the 10 sectional qualifiers to make sure it could accommodate anyone who got into the top 60 in the world ranking after this week. It was a safe move because the U.S. Open field is capped at 156 players.
But there won't be a lot of movement this year.
Chris Wood is at No. 60 in the world, and he would stay there provided Scott Piercy doesn't finish among the top 20 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. So that's one spot, maybe. But with Soren Kjeldsen withdrawing from the St. Jude Classic, only one other person has a mathematical chance to get into the top 60 in the world, and he would have to win the St. Jude Classic. That applies to only about five players, such as Ian Poulter and Hudson Swafford.
So at least four spots will be going to alternates, and that doesn't even include Phil Mickelson, who plans to withdraw because of his daughter's high school graduation.
It's difficult to miss U.S. Open qualifying by one spot, but the playoffs to determine first alternates were critical this year.
Among the first alternates was Davis Love IV, who goes primarily by Dru and is the son of the two-time Ryder Cup captain. He played in the Georgia sectional, which awarded the fewest spots (2) of any U.S. qualifier and could be high on the alternate list.
In Columbus, Michael Putnam was the only player who didn't advance in the 4-for-3 playoff Tuesday morning, but he was first alternate. The first alternate in the Texas sectional was Ryan Palmer. Along with the 10 U.S. sectional qualifiers, there was one in Japan and one in England. Those sites also have an alternate.
The mystery is which alternate gets chosen first.
The USGA does not disclose the priority list, though it keeps in touch with players to allow them time to get to Wisconsin. The U.S. Open starts June 15 at Erin Hills. The priority is based on a formula that includes how many spots each section was allocated, and the strength of field determined by the world ranking (pro and amateur).
GOOD TO GO: Rory McIlroy took off more time than he expected after The Players Championship to rest his ailing ribs, but it appears he'll be ready to go next week at the U.S. Open. McIlroy withdrew from the BMW PGA Championship and then the Memorial.
''I am ready for Erin Hills and looking forward to playing there for the first time,'' McIlroy told The Guardian. ''The last few weeks have obviously been frustrating - I never like to miss events either on the PGA Tour or European Tour - but it was important I got back to a level of fitness where I felt like I could give myself the best possible chance at the U.S. Open.
''As I have said many times before, majors will ultimately determine my golf career, but I have had the rest of this busy season to consider as well.''
McIlroy will have gone a month without competition heading into the U.S. Open.
BONUS MONEY: Anirban Lahiri did his part in the Memorial by closing with a 65. And then he got a little help when he could no longer win.
Jason Dufner clinched it with a 30-foot par putt on the 18th hole to finish at 13-under 275. Lahiri had finished hours earlier at 10-under 278. But then Rickie Fowler muffed a delicate chip on the 18th and closed with a bogey, dropping him to 10 under with Lahiri and Justin Thomas. And with the tournament decided, Thomas went into the right bunker and missed a 12-foot par putt, dropping him to 9 under.
Fowler and Thomas making pars would have meant a two-way tie for third for Lahiri. Instead, their bogeys gave him a two-way tie for second. That's a difference of $261,000 - Lahiri earned $765,600, when he could have easily had $504,600 for that two-way tie for third. It's also a difference of 83 FedEx Cup points.
The PGA Tour season is loaded with such moments - if not for this putt made or that one missed - but this might be worth bearing later in the season as Lahiri tries to make his way through the FedEx Cup playoffs.
A year ago, the difference of advancing to the BMW Championship was nine points. The difference in making the Tour Championship between 30th place (Charl Schwartzel) and 31st place (Fowler) was less than one point (0.57).
So yes, every shot counts.
JACK PASSED: Jack Nicklaus broke the record for most majors when he won the 1973 PGA Championship for No. 14. He won his 16th and 17th in 1980, and then started cutting back on his schedule as he split time among other interests, particularly his kids. Nicklaus used to wonder if he would have won more majors had the previous record been more than it was.
That's why Nicklaus was so amused when someone mentioned Bernhard Langer breaking his record with a ninth senior major.
''If I'd have known Langer had come along, I would have played more,'' Nicklaus said.
He was kidding.
''I think he's been a better player as he's gotten older,'' Nicklaus said. ''I think he's an amazingly good player. He's a good guy. I'm happy for him.''
DIVOTS: Three-time Hale Irwin was selected to be the honoree for the Memorial next year. Irwin was a two-time winner of the Memorial. Jock Hutchison and Willie Turnesa will be honored posthumously. ... Tiger Woods fell to No. 899 in the world ranking, his lowest position. He had been No. 898 until he finished 15th at the Hero World Challenge last December when he returned from a 15-month layoff. ... Matthias Schwab of Vanderbilt makes his pro debut in his home country at the Lyoness Open in Austria. ... With I.K. Kim winning the ShopRite LPGA Classic last week, the LPGA Tour now has gone 13 straight tournaments to start the year without a multiple winner. At this point a year ago, four players had multiple victories.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Andy Pope has qualified for the U.S. Open three straight years - twice by getting through 18-hole local and 36-hole sectional qualifying.
FINAL WORD: ''If you look at the next 10 sites, we'll have people complaining that we don't go anywhere new.'' - USGA executive director Mike Davis on the U.S. Open being held at new courses - Chambers Bay and Erin Hills - over the last three years.