While the FedEx Cup may be stashed away in Billy Horschel's trophy case, there is still plenty to play for this week at the Web.com Tour Championship.
The Dye Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass plays host to the fourth and final event of the Web.com Tour Finals, which will conclude Sunday with 50 players moving on to the PGA Tour for the 2014-15 season.
The Finals pit Nos. 1-75 from the season-long Web.com Tour money list against Nos. 126-200 from the final FedEx Cup standings, with 25 cards going to the players who earn the most money from the month-long series. The top 25 earners from the Web.com regular-season money list are playing with the security that their PGA Tour cards are already assured for next season, though their priority ranking among the Finals graduates won't be determined until after this week's event.
The player wearing the largest target this week is Patrick Rodgers, who holds the 50th and final spot in the rankings through three events, $703 ahead of Tag Ridings. The summer hasn't gone as planned for Rodgers, who turned pro after an incredible college career at Stanford with the hopes of parlaying a handful of sponsor invites into a PGA Tour card, as Jordan Spieth did in 2013.
Instead, Rodgers battled an oblique injury and failed to notch a top-25 finish, barely earning enough FedEx Cup points to qualify for the Finals. The injury then forced the 21-year-old out of the first postseason event, though his T-8 finish at last week's Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational netted him $30,000 and moved him inside the bubble with one event to play.
Ridings is currently the odd man out, but he's not alone in needing a strong showing in Ponte Vedra Beach to have a chance at the PGA Tour next season. The list of names currently outside the top 50 includes several former PGA Tour winners: Eric Axley (52nd), Chad Campbell (64th), Heath Slocum (71st), Kyle Stanley (72nd), Johnson Wagner (78th), Y.E. Yang (91st), John Rollins (98th), Tim Herron (T-112) and Trevor Immelman (T-112).
Those outside the number can take inspiration from Brad Fritsch and Andrew Loupe, who both missed the cut at each of the first three Finals events in 2013. Fritsch tied for second at the Web.com Tour Championship, while Loupe shared sixth place, and both went from zero to a PGA Tour card in the span of four days. Both men are now back in the Finals and once again outside the number, and will need a similar finish in order to return to the main circuit next season.
The race near the top also comes with its own reward, as the highest earner from the four-event series will join the top earner for the entire year (regular season plus Finals) in being fully-exempt for the 2014-15 season and earning spots in the 2015 Players Championship.
The season-long winner is currently projected to be Carlos Ortiz, who topped the regular-season money list after winning three times, while the best player thus far in the Finals has been Adam Hadwin. The Canadian, who finished fourth in regular-season money, won the Chiquita Classic two weeks ago and followed that with a T-10 finish last week in Columbus.
While having a PGA Tour card is nice, being able to use it is even better. As a result, players will be montoring their projected priority ranking this week, a number from 1-50 that will indicate where in the pecking order they will begin the new season. While last year those rankings were based solely on money earned during the four-event Finals, this year the top earners from the regular season were able to carry their earnings into the Finals, placing a greater emphasis on regular-season performance.
Last season, starts for Finals graduates became a growing concern, as players near the bottom of the priority rankings often had to rely upon sponsor invites or Monday qualifiers to try to crack PGA Tour fields. The difference was sizeable between those at the top of the priority list and those at the bottom, and it continued to grow as the season progressed. While six of the top 10 kept their PGA Tour cards, none from Nos. 41-50 were able to play well enough in the starts they received to stay on the circuit for next season. At No. 38, Tim Wilkinson was the lowest-ranked player from the Finals priority rankings to keep his card for 2014-15.
For some, this week is a chance to build momentum toward a PGA Tour debut. For others, it's an opportunity to move up the priority list and give themselves a better chance for success next season. While for many in the field it's one last chance to try to play their way into the big leagues. Regardless of category, everyone has something to play for this week as the Finals conclude at TPC Sawgrass.