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The Order of Opportunity Part 1

Editor's Note: This is the first 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 2
PGA Tour (75x100)Congratulations, Nationwide Tour/Q-School graduate! You are a member of the PGA Tour. Millions of dollars are there for the taking, and the opportunities are as limitless as your imagination.
Or are they?
I was under that impression when I got through Q-School, right out of college ' you know, you just kind of play whenever, said Bo Van Pelt.
'I found out quickly thats not the case at all.
Van Pelt, now in his third full season on the PGA Tour, is a learned man in the way the tour fills a field.
The tour has its own Priority Rankings system. Players earn a position on that ranking, and where they place determines their likelihood of getting into tournaments.
There are 34 categories in all. Categories range from select tournament winners to those receiving medical extensions to veteran members -- and everything else in between.
PGA Tour's All-Exempt Priority Rankings; Categories 1-34
We just basically go down that list, draw a line when we reach field capacity, and the rest are alternates, said Andy Pazder, director of administration/communication for the PGA Tour.
And often that line is drawn inside of Category 25, which consists of the most recent Nationwide Tour and Qualifying Tournament graduates.
Not Open to All
There are two types of tournaments on the PGA Tour: Opens and Invitationals. In an open,' as Pazder said, the tour determines the field based solely on their Priority Ranking.
For an invitational,' there are different criteria ' differing event to event. Invitationals include the four majors (even though two of them are called an 'open' due to their qualifying process), the three World Golf Championship events, and tournaments like Bay Hill; the MCI Heritage; Memorial; Colonial and the International.
In determining the difference between an open and an invitational take, for example, Bay Hill.
Players eligible for the Bay Hill Invitational include, among others: past tournament champions; the top 50 players from the Official World Golf Ranking through this week's Ford Championship; 18 sponsors exemptions (as opposed to the maximum of eight in an open event); the top 70 players from the seasonal money list through the Ford Championship.
In other words, invitational tournaments have more control as to who is in their field.
For those players in Category 25 ' which this year numbers at 58 ' their best opportunities to compete are in open events.
But, just because these fortunate cap-and-gown grads have full exempt status in the Big Show, that doesnt mean they are always guaranteed an opportunity to display their talents on stage.
Players in the top 20 categories will almost always get into an open field. However, there may not be enough spots remaining to satisfy all of those Q-School and Nationwide Tour graduates.
Van Pelt, who finished fifth on the 2003 Nationwide Tour money list, started his season by playing in the Sony Open and Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. He had to Monday qualify to compete in the FBR Open.
The FBR Open is an open event, but, according to Pazder, We have a lower number at Phoenix due to limited daylight and frost delays in the mornings; we can only accommodate 132 (players).
Certain situations ' given time of year and location ' we can play anywhere from 132 to 180.
Pazder says that outside of Daylight Savings Time, the standard field size is 144. During the summer months, or during DST, it is 156.
Obviously, the greater the limitation on admittance the less likely those players inside Category 25 are to gain entry.
At the FBR Open, Van Pelt was the only Nationwide Tour or Q-School graduate to compete ' and only because he Monday qualified. Zach Johnson, who due to topping last years Nationwide Tour money list is in the more desirable Category 23, was even forced to sit out as an alternate.
This weeks Ford Championship has 144 players in the field. Twenty-nine of the 58 Category 25 players were on the orginal commitment list -- prior to the start of the week. The only player eligible to compete who declined was Tjaart Van der Walt. His absence opened the door for D.J. Brigman, who would have been first alternate -- instead he temporarily became No. 144.
First alternate would have been Hunter Mahan, who was ranked 30th inside of Category 25.
'Would have,' being the operative tense.
The stop at Doral serves as a second beginning to the season: It is the first week following the first reshuffle among the Category 25 members.
Read Part 2 Wednesday, which explains the reshuffling process.