JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy are among five international players who can play one additional PGA Tour event next year if they are eligible for The Players Championship.
The policy board adopted the change at its quarterly meeting last week. It allows a player like Westwood, who ordinarily could have played no more than three regular PGA Tour events, from having to choose between The Players Championship and another tournament.
Westwood said the tour informed him of the change last week.
Players who resign their membership or fail to play the minimum 15 events face a five-year period of playing only 10 tour events. Westwood gave up his U.S. membership in 2008 when he played only 10 times, while McIlroy decided this year to resign his membership.
Westwood prefers to play the Honda Classic (situated between two World Golf Championships), the Houston Open (the week before the Masters), and the St. Jude Classic, where he is the defending champion. Throw in The Players Championship, which has the deepest field and offers the highest purse in golf, and he would have to decide.
“That adds up to 11,” Westwood said Tuesday in Dubai, according to the London-based Guardian newspaper. “I would then have to pick between the Players and Memphis, and I don’t think anyone would have wanted that – not the PGA Tour or the sponsors.”
PGA champion Martin Kaymer said Tuesday he would not take up PGA Tour membership, but since he has never been a member, he can play 12 tournaments and the new policy would not effect him.
Along with Westwood and McIlroy, the policy could also help David Howell, Darren Clarke and Patrick Sheehan of Australia. That would depend if they are in the top 50 in the world and eligible for the four majors, three WGCs and Players Championship.
McIlroy is the defending champion at Quail Hollow. The new policy will enable him to play in the Honda Classic and the Memorial, along with The Players Championship.
TOUR BALLOTS: One way players could decide on their vote for player of the year would be to ask themselves this question: “Who’s season would I trade for mine?” That yielded this answer from Tiger Woods.
“Just about anyone else’s,” he said with a self-deprecating laugh.
The ballots have been mailed to PGA Tour members, who have until next Tuesday to submit their votes.
According to one player studying the ballot, the tour has offered up five candidates for player of the year – Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson is the only major champion (Masters). Furyk figures to be the favorite with three victories, including the Tour Championship and Transitions Championship against a strong field, and the FedEx Cup. Johnson and Els won twice, with Johnson twice playing in the final group of a major; while Kuchar captured only one tournament, but led the money list and won the Vardon Trophy.
Four players are on the ballot for rookie of the year, and while it would seem to be an easy choice – Rory McIlroy winning at Quail Hollow and finishing in the top three of two majors – it will be interesting to see how the membership regards his status as a rookie, and his decision not to join the tour next year.
The other candidates are Rickie Fowler (No. 22 on money list, Ryder Cup team), Puerto Rico winner Derek Lamely and Alex Prugh.
As for comeback player of the year, the popular choice is likely Rocco Mediate, who won the Fry’s.com Open after starting the year with only past champion’s status. He’s on the ballot with Greensboro winner Arjun Atwal and Stuart Appleby.
PRICE IS RIGHT: Among those who have decided to take one-time exemptions on the PGA Tour for being in the top 50 in career money was a former No. 1 player in the world – Nick Price.
Price, who turns 54 in January, is not expected to play much on the PGA Tour. There are enough gaps in the Champions Tour schedule that he wants to have the opportunity to play regular tour events to stay sharp, likely on courses where he feels he can still compete.
Three other players taking one-time exemptions from the top 50 are Tim Herron, Chris DiMarco and Steve Flesch.
Herron thought about taking his exemption last year, but decided to try to earn his card back through sponsor exemptions and his status as a past champion. He started the year at No. 42 in career earnings and slipped to only No. 44.
BIG WEEK OF GOLF: The strongest week in golf after the majors might be the week right after Thanksgiving, with two tournaments halfway around the world.
Phil Mickelson will be the only player from the top 10 in the world not playing. The two fields have combined to produce 25 of the top 30 in the world, with the others on the sidelines being Francesco Molinari, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and K.T. Kim.
Most of them will be at the Chevron World Challenge, hosted by Tiger Woods. The field at Sherwood Country Club features 13 of the top 20 in the world. Over in South Africa is the Nedbank Challenge, which has new No. 1 Lee Westwood. All but two players in its 12-man field – Tim Clark and Anders Hansen – are among the top 30.
MAJOR ENCORE: It’s been a tough year for the most recent batch of major champions.
Angel Cabrera (Masters), Lucas Glover (U.S. Open) and Stewart Cink (British Open) have failed to win a tournament since capturing their majors in 2009. Y.E. Yang (PGA Championship) went 17 events without a trophy until he won the Volvo China Open a week after the Masters, and he recently added the Korea Open for his second win this year.
Even so, none of the major winners from last year is among the top 35 in the world ranking. Yang is the highest at No. 40, followed by Cink (46), Glover (52) and Cabrera (53). They have combined to earn 343.11 world ranking points in 2010, which is 2.7 points more than Martin Kaymer has earned by himself.
DIVOTS: British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and Charl Schwartzel have taken up PGA Tour membership for 2011. … John Merrick, Joe Ogilvie, James Nitties and Ted Purdy were among those who finished out of the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list to play in at least 30 tournaments. … Ron Balicki, with Golfweek magazine since 1983, will be the first noncoach inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame. Balicki was selected for his contributions to college golf. … Four players who won PGA Tour events in 2008 and earned two-year exemptions failed to get past the second stage of Q-School – Daniel Chopra (Kapalua), Parker McLachlin (Reno-Tahoe), Chez Reavie (Canadian Open) and Greg Kraft (Puerto Rico Open).
STAT OF THE WEEK: Of the top 10 players on the PGA Tour money list this year, Matt Kuchar was the only one to play in more than 25 tournaments. He played in 26.
FINAL WORD: “All he has to do is play like he did before and he’s going to be tough to beat.” – Phil Mickelson, on whether Tiger Woods can get back his aura.