The future of Irish participation on the PGA Tour has come to a crossroads at this week’s Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina.
For a first time in near on a decade, Ireland is staring at the possibility of having just one player, Rory McIlroy, with full exempt status on next year’s 2018/19 Tour.
The regular 2017/18 Tour ends at this week’s in the $6m (Euro 5.3m) event being played on the Sedgefield Country Club course with the leading 125 on the FedEx Cup standings retaining full membership.
Four Irish – Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Seamus Power are each looking not only to win, but to ensure their place on next year’s new-look Tour.
Harrington has played just 15 Tour events this year and is lying 220th on the standings but unlike his three Irish compatriots the now 46-year old will be able to draw next year on a one-off ‘All-time money list’ category in remaining a member of the Tour.
McDowell’s exemption in capturing the 2016 Mayakoba Classic ends this week and at 143rd on the money list, the 38-year old has to secure a top-10 effort in an event he played for the first-time last year and missed the cut, to retain full membership.
‘G Mac’ has earned $US 16m in his now 204 Tour events since his debut at the 2001 Shell Houston Open but with none near as important to his career as this week’s event.
“I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself and I feel like it’s not a do-or-die scenario for me,” he said last fortnight at the Barracuda Championship.
“I feel like if I was 25-years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario.”
“Certainly, trying to put the pressure off, if I don’t get myself into the top-125 it’s not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season.”
Indeed, McDowell should be assured of 10-12 PGA Tour events but they will not be all of his choosing while he could play more in Europe given he has contested seven tournaments this year, with a best of fifth at the Italian Open.
Lowry tees-up in Greensboro in his last event of a three-year Tour exemption in capturing the 2015 WGC – Bridgestone Invitational but is clearly buoyed by his strong showing in last week’s PGA Championship.
He also has brother, Alan on the bag for a fourth and last time, with the duo looking to make it four cuts in succession.
Lowry is currently 139th on the FedEx Cup standings and a repeat of last year’s stirring seventh place finish would seal his place not only in next week’s Northern Trust, the first of the Fed-Ex Cup Play-Offs, but his spot on the ‘18/’19 Tour.
Power is the only one among the four currently inside the top-125 who will retain full membership, but at 123rd on the FedEx Cup points standing the West Waterford golfer’s primary goal is to simply make the cut.
Bizarrely, it is the second year in succession Power will tee-up in the Wyndham lying 123rd on the money list.
This year, Power has contested 26 events after winning back full Tour membership by just $287 in securing the 25th and last place back onto the Tour late last year in the secondary Web.com Tour Championship.
However, it has not helped Power that of the events he’s contested he has missed the cut in 11, including an early-season stretch of four in succession.
But unlike last year, Power will not want to be cut after three rounds and needs what will be a third top-10 to hold onto his card.
“I actually feel pretty good and you know in the back of your mind what is at stake and all that stuff but this is a 72-hole tournament and if you start thinking about that stuff you could be exhausted come Sunday,” he said.
“So, it’s there and you know you have to play well but it was of those things you cannot control and all you can do is play as well as you can”.
IRISH TEE TIMES: (Irish time)
12.30pm – Shane Lowry
12.40pm – Graeme McDowell
5.20pm – Seamus Power
5.50pm – Padraig Harrington