LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Let’s say there’s a big game on TV tonight. Let’s say you invite a few buddies over to your place. Let’s say you’re all enjoying some adult beverages while intently watching the action in your mandated man-cave.
And let’s say the entire night is interrupted when a pair of supermodels come barging through the door.
Hey, it happens.
So, what do you do? Kick ‘em out and post a “No Girls Allowed” sign on the entrance? Or welcome the unexpected surprise with open arms – literally – and crack open a few cold ones for the bewitching beauties?
It’s a conundrum every man should have the pleasure of dealing with at least once in his life, but more importantly in this case, it’s an analogy for what’s taking place at this week’s PGA Tour season finale.
You and your buddies represent the rank and file of the game’s most elite tour. The journeymen. The rookies. The tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. You are the players who don’t want to play well at this event; you need to play well here.
Maybe it’s to jump into the top 30 on the final money list and gain entry into next year’s Masters. Or the top 70 to qualify for invitationals. Or even – gulp – the dreaded top 125, ensuring status for next season and a week of vacation when others are sweating it out at Q-School.
The players who need to play well at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic are accustomed to enjoying the festivities with like-minded competitors. You know, just a bunch of guys in their man-cave.
The top two players on the money list crashed the party on Thursday and it doesn’t appear anybody is going to kick them out anytime soon. Paired together, Donald posted a 6-under 66 to grab an early share of the opening-round lead while Simpson was only two strokes further back as the playing partners combined for a bogey-free morning at the Magic Kingdom.
At stake between them is the season-long money title. Once thought to be the most prestigious statistical honor for a PGA Tour pro, its importance has been diluted since the implementation of the FedEx Cup. Just ask the Tour, which has chosen to focus its efforts more on the points race than the money.
Until now. With the annual playoffs already a month over, the battle for greenback supremacy has once again taken priority, which is a little like NFL teams still vying for the Lombardi Trophy long after the Super Bowl has been decided.
With his runner-up finish at last week’s McGladrey Classic, Simpson leapfrogged Donald on the list, taking a $363,029 advantage entering the finale. It means that in order to claim the title, Donald needs to win if Simpson finishes tied for second; he needs to finish solo second if Simpson is tied for eighth; or he needs a two-way tie for second if Simpson is inside the top 21.
It also means the two men had plenty to discuss while spending 18 holes together on Thursday.
“We joked around earlier on about it,” Simpson said with a smile. “He shook my hand and told me it was great to see me. We went back and forth a little bit.”
“He asked when I was having my offseason,” Donald revealed. “I said, ‘Well, it was going to be this week. Thanks for playing the last two weeks.’ But, yeah, just some lighthearted banter out there.”
As well there should be. While the money title and, potentially, the Player of the Year award remain up for grabs, it’s not as if a poor week from either player would tarnish his accomplishments.
Exactly a year ago, Simpson was ranked outside the top 200 in the world and had yet to even secure his playing privileges for this season, needing a few strong Fall Series results in order to clinch a card. Now he’s No. 12 on the Official World Golf Ranking and a two-time champion with three other runner-up finishes.
Donald, meanwhile, has parlayed doubts as a career-long underachiever into a turn as the top-ranked player and clearly the most consistent performer in the world. His low opening round at Disney not only shouldn’t be considered a surprise, at this point it should be expected.
All of which accentuates their presence at the year-end event. Simpson and Donald have gone from party crashers to the life of the party. This isn’t their bash, but they’re hardly being bashed for showing up.
You know, just like those supermodels barging into your place tonight.