LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It’s cut-throat simple for the big prize this time.
It’s man-to-man offense with no head-scratching scenarios to complicate and muddle the drama.
Webb Simpson and Luke Donald square off at the season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Classic this week to determine who will win the PGA Tour money title and the Arnold Palmer Trophy that goes with it. Yes, the PGA Tour Player of the Year award may also hang in the balance as a bonus gift to the winner, but this week is ultimately about the money.
At No. 1 on the financial list, Simpson is $363,029 ahead of Donald, who’s No. 2.
By deciding to tee it up together in the Fall Series finale at Disney World, this duo has turned back the clock to a time when players didn’t need calculators and spread sheets to figure out where they stood in the game’s pecking order. They’ve returned to a time when the sport’s best, as Paul Azinger likes to say, knew what they were choking for.
In today’s game, a player is never really sure how a putt at tournament’s end will impact his world ranking with divisors and points convoluting calculations.
Simpson and Donald will have a good idea what they’re choking for this week.
“I know what I need to do,” Donald said Wednesday morning. “It’s not going to be easy, but it would be great to go out there and try to win this event. Hopefully, that will be good enough to win the money title.”
Donald must win or finish no lower than a two-way tie for second to have a chance to win the money title.
If Donald wins, he forces Simpson to finish solo second to take the money title. If Donald finishes solo second, Simpson must finish solo eighth or better to stay atop the money list. If Donald ties for second with one other player, Simpson can still claim the title with money earned in a two-way tie for 22nd or four-way tie for 21st.
“You don’t want to think about it too much while you’re playing,” Simpson said. “But at the same time, it’s nice to know, ‘Hey, if he does this, or I do this, it’s done.’ There are not as many variables to be accounted for.”
The last time Simpson and Donald saw each other, they were sitting with their families in the clubhouse at the end of the Tour Championship trying to figure out the complicated scenarios that would win one the FedEx Cup.
“It was a little weird,” Simpson said. “We were both trying to figure out if we were going to beat each other.”
Simpson ended up claiming second in the FedEx Cup playoffs, Donald third.
Adding to the intrigue this week, Donald and Simpson have been paired together for the first two rounds. They go off at 8:20 a.m. Thursday on the Palm Course, 12:20 p.m. Friday on the Magnolia.
“It will obviously be somewhat new to me, because I’ve never been in this situation before,” Simpson said. “But I think my No. 1 goal/challenge will be to not get too involved in what he’s doing.”
With world rankings rising in importance, with the FedEx Cup playoffs becoming a focal point, with Tiger Woods making money races irrelevant in runaways, the money title has lost some luster in recent years. Simpson and Donald are making it relevant again. The money title looms as a potential decisive factor in voting for PGA Tour Player of the Year. The money title comes with a nice bonus in a five-year exemption.
“I know I’m up against Luke, Keegan [Bradley] and Nick [Watney], who’ve all had great years,” Simpson said. “But I think playing well this week would only help.”
For Donald, whose three worldwide victories this year include only one PGA Tour title, winning the money title might be what he needs to tip the voting balance in his favor. He’s won nearly as much money playing seven fewer events than Simpson.
“Obviously, I feel like if I played as many events as Webb I probably wouldn’t be in this situation,” Donald said. “But, I choose to play both tours.”
Donald is seeking to become the first player to win the money titles on the PGA Tour and European Tour in the same season. Though Tiger Woods won the most money on both those tours six times, he wasn’t a member of the European Tour and thus wasn’t eligible for its Order of Merit.
The player ballots for voting for PGA Tour Player of the Year are due to be mailed out on Oct. 25. The Player Advisory Council nominates candidates that will appear on the ballot. Simpson, Donald and Keegan Bradley are likely the frontrunners with two-time winners Nick Watney, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson and Mark Wilson in the mix.
The ballot comes with no definition as to what “Player of the Year” means.
Though Donald has just the one victory, he’s proven himself with the two other international titles, with his No. 1 ranking, with remarkable consistency on both tours.
“It’s a pretty plain palate, just a tick in the box,” Donald said of the ballot. “I think there probably needs to be a little bit more guidelines as to what you’re really voting on. Are my accomplishments outside of the PGA Tour being considered? Or was it just my play on the PGA Tour?
“(It) needs to be clarified to the players. Yeah, it’s a tricky one, Player of the Year. It’s obviously subjective on what the players think. When voting, the players will consider a few things outside of the money, in terms of not just wins, but the Vardon Trophy and the stroke average.”
Donald leads the PGA Tour in scoring average (68.86) with Simpson second (69.23).
“I guess I’m trying to toot my own horn a little bit,” Donald said. “But the domination in the world rankings and how many points I’ve earned this year . . . I’ve won three times around the world, only once in the U.S. Hopefully, these are things that will be considered.”
Simpson and Donald are similar type players who have both been consistent factors.
Simpson has the two PGA Tour victories, plus two losses in playoffs, among his 11 top-10 finishes in 25 starts. Donald has finished first, second or third five times among his 13 top-10 results in 18 PGA Tour starts.
“We’ve had similar years,” Simpson said. “His finishes, when you look at his stats and mine, they seem to be similar. In terms of our game, I hit it just a little farther than he does, but I don’t think there are too many differences in the way we play.”
The similarities are giving the PGA Tour its tightest money race in years. There’s a possibility a player could overtake the money leader in the season’s final event for the first time since Tom Lehman won the Tour Championship to overtake Phil Mickelson in 1996. And it’s cut-throat simple with no head-spinning calculations required.