The Order of Opportunity Part 2

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Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part series explaining the PGA Tour's All Exempt Priority Rankings and the reshuffling process inside of its Category 25. Read Part 1.
 
PGA Tour (75x100)As the reigning Q-School medalist, Mathias Gronberg entered the 2004 PGA Tour season as the top dog inside Category 25 on the tours All-Exempt Priority Ranking.
 
Hes now, in a sense, feeding off of table scraps.
 
You better make some money on the West Coast if you want to get into tournaments (on the Southern Swing). Youre going to get passed if you dont, said Andy Pazder, director of administration/communication for the PGA Tour.
 
Thats because of the tours reshuffling process.
 
Five times a year, the tour reshuffles players inside of Category 25 ' which consists of the most recent Nationwide Tour and Qualifying Tournament graduates (not including the leading money winner and any other three-time winners on the previous years Nationwide Tour, who go into Category 23) ' based on their year-to-date earnings.
 
Our eligibility is based on current competition, and the reshuffling process is the best indicator of that, Pazder said.
 
The first of those five reshuffles takes effect at this weeks Ford Championship. A second is done the Monday of the Masters; the third the Monday of the U.S. Open; the fourth the Monday of the PGA Championship; the fifth the Monday of the Southern Farm Bureau Classic.
 
The reshuffling process is as simple as it is critical.
 
The tour uses its All-Exempt Priority Ranking to determine the fields in their open tournaments ' which are most non-major, non-World Golf Championship events.
 
They go right down that list until the field reaches capacity ' ranging from 132 to 180 players. Those who dont make it become alternates.
 
Many times, a fields final line is drawn inside of Category 25 (of 34 categories). Therefore, those ranked higher in that category are more likely to gain entry into an event.
 
The list (of players inside Category 25) starts with Q-School No.1, then Nationwide No. 2, then Q-School No. 2, then Nationwide No. 3, and so on until they run out of Nationwide Tour graduates. Then it goes straight down to how players finished at Q-School, explained Pazder.
 
Following the conclusion of last weeks events ' the WGC-Accenture Match Play and the Chrysler Classic of Tucson, the tour reshuffled those 58 players.
 
And Gronberg, who earned just under $60,000 in five events played on the West Coast Swing, went from No. 1 to No. 13. It's not a monumental plummet, but it could be the difference -- particularly if he continues to slide -- in getting into a tournament here and there.
 
Bo Van Pelt is the new No. 1.
 
Van Pelt has played in six tournaments thus far this season. Hes made five cuts, has three top-25 finishes, and tied for fourth in the Buick Invitational.
 
In an effort to bolster his position inside of Category 25, he successfully Monday qualified for the FBR Open.
 
I really wanted to get in and play well this week, he said at the time. That would definitely give me a leg up on the reshuffle.
 
And he was right.
 
Van Pelt, the only Category 25 player to make the field, tied for 15th in Phoenix and earned more than $78,000.
 
In all, Van Pelt, in his third full season on tour, has pocketed $380,209. That ranks him 28th on the money list, and first in his Category.
 
Mark Hensby, who tied for seventh at Pebble Beach and tied for third last week in Tucson, is right on his heels. He is 33rd on the money list with $349,647.
 
Among the significant positive reshuffles: Ted Purdy climbed from 27th to third; Craig Bowden from 35th to seventh; Brian Bateman from 24th to eighth; Brian Gay from 50th to 17th; 19-year-old Kevin Na went from 42nd to 19th; Roger Tambellini (41 to 21) and Russ Cochran (36 to 14) also made progress, as did Dan Olsen (28 to 10).
 
Danny Briggs made the largest leap forward, rocketing 36 spots. He made the most of his limited opportunities. Due to his low starting point of 52 he has only played in three events; however, he has made all three cuts, and tied for 20th in Tucson.
 
He's now 16th, and will have a much easier time finding work.
 
On the flip side, Chris Couch tumbled the furthest. Thanks to making but one cut in five starts, he has dropped from fifth to 46th.
 
Wes Short, who is battling injury and has two withdrawals to go along with one missed cut this season, fell from 18th to 51st; Tjaart Van der Walt from 22nd to 41st; John Maginnes was a mirror image of Cochran, going from 14th to 36th; Jason Dufner from 17th to 35th; Kris Cox from 20th to 48th; Andre Stoltz from 23rd to 40th; Guy Boros from 25th to 49th; Kevin Muncrief from 32nd to 52nd.
 
To find the signifcance in all this, look at Ford Championship.
 
This is the first week that the reshuffle takes affect.
 
That means players like Gay, Briggs and Na, all three of whom would have had no chance of getting into the field based on their categorical positions at the start of the year, are now in the $5 million Doral field.
 
Meanwhile, players like Couch, Cox and Stoltz, all three of whom easily would have made the field were it not for the reshuffle, now have no chance of playing this week -- and will have difficulty finding playing time as the tour winds through Florida.
 
Originally, the final line on the Ford field list was drawn right in front of Hunter Mahan's name. Mahan started the year 30th inside Category 25. But after the reshuffle, he moved to 20th, and now has a tee time on the Blue Monster; whereas D.J. Brigman, who would have been in the field due to his starting 29th position is now the first alternate after dropping ever-so-slightly to 31st.
 
A slide of just two spots may cost him his opportunity to compete for the $900,000 first-place prize.
 
One player who doesnt have to concern himself with this process is Zach Johnson.
 
By virtue of his topping the 2003 Nationwide Tour money list, he was positioned inside of Category 23. This assures him of being selected for a field before any of his fellow Nationwide Tour or Q-School graduates.
 
Thats not to say he can play anywhere he pleases.
 
Johnson spent Wednesday of the FBR Open practicing and Thursday eagerly waiting, just hoping to make the 128-man field.
 
But not enough people withdrew for him to get the call. He never made it off the Alternate list.
 
There are some restrictions, Johnson said of his status. Some tournaments have limited fields, and the Invitationals are different.
 
But I feel pretty fortunate not to have to get into that reshuffle, he added. I was in the reshuffle on the Nationwide Tour in 2000; it wasnt any fun. If you get off to a good start then youre fine.
 
Johnson has made four cuts in five starts this season, netting just over $90,000 Were he inside of Category 25, he would have been reshuffled from first to seventh.
 
Thats one of the perks of being The Man on the Nationwide Tour: you dont have to go through the reshuffling process. A slow start is not cause for alarm. Johnson can ease into his schedule much more so than players like Van Pelt.
 
Theres no question that if you can make some money early you can plan out your schedule a little more than if you dont, Van Pelt said. Its not an end-all, but it definitely helps to take some pressure off.
 
It also lets you take some weeks off when you get tired. If you dont play well on the West Coast, then you feel like you have to play whenever you can get in. And thats not necessarily the best recipe for success.
 
Having already put himself in great position to retain his tour card for next season, Van Pelt took off last week ' when he easily would have made the diluted Tucson Open field ' in order to rest and prepare for the upcoming Southern Swing.
 
There are only five more events before the next reshuffle.