By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — Justin Lower lost his PGA Tour card in brutal fashion in the final tournament of the regular season. Needing a par on the final hole to finish among the top 125, Lower ran his 60-footer some 6 feet by and missed for a three-putt bogey.
He finished at No. 127 and was in tears when he said, “It sucks to come up this short.”
Thanks to Saudi-funded LIV Golf, Lower is among players who might get a reprieve.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan notified players in an Aug. 12 memo that the policy board decided eligibility for the next season (which starts Sept. 12) would not be finalized until after the Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
“Accordingly, the FedEx Cup Playoffs and Eligibility Points List will continue to update,” he said.
The Daily Telegraph reported that British Open champion Cameron Smith will join LIV Golf after the Tour Championship, and it is believed as many as six others could join him, all of whom finished in the top 125 of the FedEx Cup standings.
The next LIV Golf event starts Sept. 2 — two days before the Korn Ferry Tour ends — and the PGA Tour has suspended players as soon as they hit a tee shot for the rival series.
Depending on how many players sign with LIV Golf, that will move up the players who are outside the top 125. If three were to sign, that would mean Matt Wallace, Austin Smotherman (who had his own mishap on his last hole at the Wyndham Championship) and Lower would retain a full card and be exempt for The Players Championship.
They still would have gotten into tournaments, but top 125 means they keep their priority all year without going through a reshuffle.
It also would have an effect further up the eligibility list. The top 70 get into the invitational events like the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial, which offer $15 million purses.
This wouldn’t be the first time Smotherman was helped by LIV Golf. He is listed at No. 137 in the official standings, but he is 10 spots higher because of the LIV players ahead of him who are suspended. And odds are there’s more to come.
Cameron Young and Sahith Theegala are among eight players who can make plans for Kapalua even if they don’t win this year.
Kapalua has been the winners-only start to the year on the PGA Tour since 1999, and Wisconsin-based Sentry Insurance has made sure it will stay that way for another decade. In the process, the field is expanding.
The PGA Tour announced Tuesday a contract extension with the Sentry Tournament of Champions that runs through 2035. It extends a 10-year partnership announced in 2020. Sentry’s first year as title sponsor was 2018, its first major sports marketing agreement.
Starting in January, the field will include all PGA Tour winners from the previous calendar year along with the 30 players who qualify for the Tour Championship. That was the same format used in 2021 because the previous year was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The change means a trip to paradise to start the year for Young, Theegala, Scott Stallings, Collin Morikawa, Corey Conners, Brian Harman, Adam Scott and Aaron Wise. All are at East Lake without having won this year.
Sentry already agreed to bump its purse to $15 million, nearly double from last year, as it becomes one of the elevated prize funds in the tour’s new schedule.
Sentry already has a big year in golf in 2023. Its course, SentryWorld, is hosting the U.S. Senior Open.
Tiger Woods is the star attraction for the PGA Tour 2K23 video game coming out in October.
So is a guy who actually plays more golf than Woods — Michael Jordan.
2K announced Monday that gamers can play as Woods or against him in the 2023 edition. They also can buy a special edition of the game that will include the type of wedges used by Woods, a shirt and a “Tiger Woods Signature Sunday” pack with black pants, a red shirt, black hat, shoes and golf balls.
Woods is invested in other ways. He is an executive director advising the development.
“It’s not only great to be back on the cover of a video game, but the executive director role makes this a truly unique opportunity,” Woods said in a statement. “2K is the perfect partner for me and I am excited to continue impacting the game and culture of golf beyond my play on the PGA Tour.”
Woods is playing only occasionally now because of leg injuries from his February 2021 car crash. He made the cut in two of the three majors he played this year.
The game also will feature Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau and Will Zalatoris, and LPGA major champions Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson.
LOVING THE PRESSURE
PGA Tour rookie Sahith Theegala knows all about nerves. He had a chance to win the Phoenix Open until a shot in the water on the 17th hole. He had a chance to win the Travelers Championship until a double bogey on the final hole.
More pressure found him at the BMW Championship, and he delivered with enough good golf to make it to the Tour Championship.
For Theegala, there is nothing better.
“Imagine not being nervous,” he said. “Obviously there’s a fine line between serious nervousness and anxiety and comfortability, and finding that line is tough. But yeah, just pressure is a privilege, and I sure felt that way today.”
ASCENSION AND APGA
The Ascension Charity Classic has created a spot in its PGA Tour Champions field for Tim O’Neal of the Advocates Professional Golf Association Tour.
Ascension previously announced a three-year deal to host an APGA Tour event in St. Louis. Now it is bringing an APGA Tour player to its 50-and-older event on Sept. 9-11 that features a $2 million purse. It will be O’Neal’s first Champions start. He turned 50 on Aug. 3.
“We’re thrilled to have Tim join this elite field,” said Nick Ragone, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Ascension. “By bringing the PGA Tour Champions and APGA Tour in closer alignment, we hope that other PGA TOUR properties will do likewise as we help make the game more diverse and inclusive.”
O’Neal, who twice missed earning a PGA Tour card in Q-school by one shot, has played eight times on the PGA Tour and has 156 starts on the Korn Ferry Tour. He is a nine-time winner on the APGA Tour, created to provide opportunities inside and outside the ropes for underrepresented players.
Atlanta-based Southern Company has renewed its partnership at the Tour Championship. Along with Accenture and Coca-Cola, the PGA Tour plans to be at East Lake for the foreseeable future. It had been exploring the possibility of a rotation. … Eight years after Lucy Li played in the U.S. Women’s Open at age 11, she’s headed for the LPGA Tour. Li became the first player to clinch a spot on the LPGA Tour next year through the Epson Tour money list courtesy of two wins, a runner-up finish and a pair of top 5s. … Bobbi Stricker made it through the first stage of LPGA qualifying with a 69 on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills, the old home of the LPGA’s first major. She tied for seventh. She had for a caddie her father, Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Xander Schauffele is 52-under par in his five years at the Tour Championship. He has been under par in 18 of his 20 rounds — the exceptions were an even-par 70. He has yet to win a trophy at East Lake.
“Maybe a Tiger injury.” — Patrick Cantlay, on why no one has repeated as FedEx Cup champion. Woods won in 2007 and 2009 and was recovering from season-ending knee surgery in 2008.
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