The Nationwide Tour is down to its 31st and final event of the 2006 season. And this one will finalize the fields fate.
Lyle and Sim are at 15th and 16th, respectively, on the money list. Should they both finish inside the top 20 then two more players will be awarded PGA TOUR cards for 2007.
The top 20 players on the final money list will be promoted to the big leagues next year. Lyle and Sim could make that number 22.
And if last year is any indicator, thats likely to happen.
A year ago, only two players moved inside the cut line courtesy their performances at the Tour Championship.
David Branshaw won the event and vaulted from 29th to seventh. Eric Axley was runner-up and advanced 11 spots to No. 16. Axely went on to win this years Valero Texas Open to secure another two years on TOUR. Branshaw will be back in '07, thanks to a 119th cash showing.
Bill Haas and Tom Scherrer were the unfortunate losers that week in Prattville, Ala. Because Jason Gore had already won three times that season and been promoted to the PGA TOUR, cards were handed out to the top 21 players on the final money list.
Bill Haas was 21st entering the season finale, but tied for 24th to fall into the 23rd position. Tom Scherrer also tied for 24th and fell from 19th in earnings to 22nd.
Haas went on to earn his TOUR card through Q-school and made enough money this year to be invited back in 2007. Scherrer was relegated to the Nationwide Tour, where he finished 70th in the financial department and failed to qualify for the ultimate event.
Twelve of the 21 Nationwide Tour graduates, including Gore, finished inside the top 125 on the this years PGA TOUR money list, meaning they kept their cards for another year.
Jess Daley is the man on the bubble this time around ' assuming Lyle and Sim are safe. Daley, a former TOUR member, is 22nd in earnings, just $1,212 ahead of No. 23 Brenden Pappas.
Some notable players on the outside hoping to get in are former U.S. Amateur champions Nick Flanagan ($25,895 behind Daley) and Ricky Barnes ($27,706 behind), and Tim ONeal ($63,277 behind). ONeal is trying to join Tiger Woods as the only African-Americans on TOUR.
But to get there, ONeal will have to have his best finish of the season. A tie for fourth two weeks ago in Florida gave him a chance to earn his card. Hell likely need no worse than a solo second-place finish this week to get it.
The purse is $750,000, with $135,000 going to the winner.
This week isnt all about just getting inside the top 22; its about where you finish inside that number.
Ken Duke currently leads the money list with $369,318 ' $12,999 clear of No. 2 Johnson Wagner. Topping the money list is very important. For one, it puts you in a higher category on the TOURs ranking priority. This gives you a much better chance of getting into limited fields, particularly the early-season tournaments on the West Coast Swing.
For another, being the Money Man gets you a spot in next years Players Championship.
Where you finish inside the top 22 will also determine your priority ranking at the beginning of the 2007 PGA TOUR season. All Nationwide Tour graduates and Q-school qualifiers ' except for the Nationwide money leader and anyone winning three times on the Nationwide Tour in the previous season ' are all placed in the same category. Many TOUR fields are finalized by using players from this department. For example, if you finish fifth on the Nationwide money list, or fifth at Q-school, you are seeded higher than if you finish 12th in either one.
The seeding isnt changed until the TOUR hits the Florida Swing in March, and a reshuffle, based on current player earnings, takes affect.
As mentioned, winning three Nationwide Tour events in the same season will make sure you avoid the reshuffle and put you in a different category. Four players have a chance to close the season with a third victory: Wagner, Tripp Isenhour (No. 6 on the money list), Kevin Stadler (No. 9) and Brandt Snedeker (No. 10).
All of those in the field who do not advance to the 2007 PGA TOUR will have full exempt status on the Nationwide Tour next season.
This years event will be contested at the Houstonian Golf & Country Club, a 7,100-yard, par-72 venue. It is the first time that this course has played host. The last five contests were at The Senator Course in Alabama.
The Golf Channel will air all four rounds, beginning Thursday at 2:30 PM Thursday. Re-airs can be seen each night at 9:00 p.m. ET.