ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – It is shaping up to be the “Showdown in O-Town,” a mano-a-mano title bout for all the cash and historic considerations complete with a smidge of trash talking.
“There was never really a decision to be made, I have a chance of making history. See you all at Disney next week,” Luke Donald tweeted on Friday after news surfaced he would join Webb Simpson next week at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. The post came complete with a hash-tag kicker, “bring it on.”
Donald and Simpson have turned the often foregone race for the PGA Tour money title into something worth watching because both have proven the cash crown is something worth wanting.
Where, however, the money title ranks on Tour types' “to do” lists depends almost entirely on who you ask. On Saturday at the McGladrey Classic an impromptu poll of players resulted in an eclectic mix of opinions.
Asked to rank the importance of winning a major championship, the FedEx Cup, the money title, the Player of the Year Award and taking over the top spot in the World Golf Ranking, every player began their list with Grand Slam glory.
“If you’ve had a really good career but when you’re done if you look back and don’t have (a major) you’d probably have some regrets,” Shaun Micheel said.
That Micheel already has his Grand Slam keepsake (2003 PGA Championship) speaks to the divergent motivations that are the basis of players’ “bucket lists.” Despite his major victory Micheel has finished inside the top 80 in earnings just twice since 2000, which would at least partially explain his affinity for the money title, which he ranked second.
“The (FedEx) Cup winner is kind of like the winner of the Super Bowl, but at the end of the year winning the money title shows how consistent you were,” he said. “There’s a reason Luke is coming back: He wants that money title.”
Combined, Donald and Simpson have 23 top-10 finishes this year, three victories and just five missed cuts. Although both came up short in the race for the FedEx Cup the allure of the money title has drawn both players to next week’s finale.
“I was talking to my wife about it; if you win the money list you're probably added to a list of maybe 50 guys,” said Simpson, who trails Donald on the money list by about $69,000. “So it would be a pretty prestigious list to be a part of.”
Actually, there have been 37 players who have claimed the Tour money title since 1934, a club almost as exclusive as the 10 players who have won the Jack Nicklaus Trophy for Player of the Year since it was first awarded in 1990.
Most players, however, don’t share the would-be cash king’s desire for green gold. In fact, the money title was a middle-of-the-pack entry on most players’ lists.
“A major is No. 1, being No. 1 in the world is 1B . . . if you ask my accountant the FedEx Cup would be 1A,” Charles Howell III smiled. “Fourth would be the Player of the Year and fifth would be the money title.”
It’s telling that the rank and file preach consistency, particularly when asked who may get their vote for Player of the Year, but based on unofficial polling it’s the quick hit (a major) that is the most coveted accolade.
To win a major a player needs to have a great week, the FedEx Cup requires a great month, the Player of the Year Award may come down to a great news cycle, the money title is the result of a great year and the top spot in the World Ranking requires two solid years.
“We base everything off how many times we get in contention,” Robert Garrigus said. “The money title is a five-year exemption, a major is a 10-year exemption and the FedEx Cup is a lot of money, and that’s all good, but I’d rather win a major, preferably the Masters.”
Although the Player of the Year Award – which is an even more crowded race than the money title with five legitimate players vying for votes – was often at the bottom of many players' “bucket lists,” Jonathan Byrd ranked the Nicklaus Trophy second on his list. Having won the 2002 Rookie of the Year Award Byrd considers a nod from the frat brothers something that should not be taken lightly.
“With the Player of the Year you’d look back and say you’re the best that year,” Byrd said. “If I were to win that I’d consider it very special.”
Similarly, the convoluted nature of the World Golf Ranking – combined with Tiger Woods’ stranglehold on the top spot for the better part of a decade – relegated the No. 1 ranking to also-ran status on most lists.
Byrd, for example, ranked the top spot in the world third on his list “because the (points) system is not perfect.” But Kevin Streelman and D.A. Points had a much greater affinity for the perception, if not the points, of being world No. 1.
“If you don’t want to be No. 1, if that’s not high on your list then why are you out here?” Points figured.
While Streelman took the long view, factoring in the two-year window needed to climb to the top of the global heap and the need to be consistent throughout to stay atop the pack.
“It’s great golf consistently,” he said. “There’s a lot of talk about the way they do the points system, but if you look at the guys who have held it over the past couple of years it’s pretty tough to debate.”
In short, majors rule, but we already knew that. It is telling that the FedEx Cup has 10 million reasons to inspire the masses but is still considered something of a result, not a reason to work harder.
It is the money title, the historical benchmark for greatness, and World Ranking, reviled by many as convoluted, that are still highly coveted by Tour types. Just ask Donald and Simpson.