The PGA Tour money title is relevant for the first time since 2003 because it has come down to two players -- Webb Simpson and Luke Donald -- in the final tournament of the year at Disney.
But it’s not just about the money.
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For thr first time since 2003, the PGA Tour money title will be decided in the season finale at Disney World.
Simpson had more than just the money title on his mind when he decided to play the McGladrey Classic last week at Sea Island, where missing a 3-foot par putt with his belly putter and losing in a playoff was easy to stomach. The runner-up finish was worth $432,000, and it gave him a $363,029 lead on the money list.
He has two wins this year, as much as anyone else, but no more than five other players. Simpson didn’t win a major, although neither did any of the other player of the year candidates except for Keegan Bradley.
“I still need to do a little something more to get player of the year,” Simpson said at the start of last week. “So I think if I could somehow squeak it out and win the money list, that would just help.”
In a year in which no one has really stood out, it might be just enough.
The PGA Tour player of the year is a vote of the players. The Players Advisory Council nominates the candidates -- it could be one of the longer lists -- and the ballots will be mailed Oct. 25.
Winning the Arnold Palmer Award for leading the PGA Tour money list might mean even more to Donald. He has a chance to become the first player to win the money titles on the PGA Tour and European Tour in the same season. Donald has a comfortable lead in Europe. His prospects suddenly look bleak in America.
Donald also needs to win the money list to bolster his credential as the player of the year.
He has been ranked No. 1 the last five months, and he is there for a reason. No one has played better golf this year. In 23 tournaments, Donald has won three times, had 17 finishes in the top 10 and finished in the top five in nearly half his tournaments.
Trouble is, he has only one win on the PGA Tour. That was at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona, with a performance so resounding that Donald never played the 18th hole at Dove Mountain except in a practice round.
Yes, he added Disney World to his schedule at the last minute to try to win the money title. But the bigger picture for Donald is to show his peers how badly he wants to be player of the year. Donald most likely will have to win Disney to capture the money list, and that also would give him two PGA Tour wins -- same as Simpson, Bradley, Steve Stricker, Nick Watney, Bubba Watson and Mark Wilson.
The feeling in August was that the FedExCup playoffs would go a long way toward determining the PGA Tour player of the year.
Who would have guessed it would be settled in the Fall Series?
Simpson and Donald have emerged as the favorites, so closely linked that if Donald were to win at Disney and Simpson finished second, they would be tied for the points-based player of the year award from the PGA of America.
But it’s not that simple.
There still figures to be sentiment for Bradley, the 25-year-old rookie whose two wins include the PGA Championship. Majors tend to be the tiebreaker in these votes, as David Duval can attest. He won four times in 1998 -- in the winter, spring, summer and fall -- won the money title and the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average. He lost the award to Mark O’Meara, who won two majors.
But for a body of work, Bradley has some blemishes.
No one ever voted player of the year has been outside the top 10 on the money list. Bradley is 13th.
Only once in the last 20 seasons has the player of the year missed more than three cuts. That was Nick Price in 1994, who missed the cut five times. He also won six tournaments, including two majors.
Bradley has more missed cuts (10) than top-10s (four).
Bill Haas won the FedExCup, but that was based on only one win at the Tour Championship. Watney might get some consideration, with two wins -- including a World Golf Championship—along with 10 finishes in the top 10 and finishing third on the money list.
Simpson innocently raised a question last week that players will have to ponder.
“The thing I wish I knew a little better was the definition of player of the year,” Simpson said. “I think most people think it’s like the MVP or basketball or football, but it’s really not.”
“It should be the guy who played the best golf during the entire year,” Simpson said. “I think consistency is part of it. I think being in contention and winning tournaments is all in there. I don’t know. I guess it’s up to us players to vote, which I forgot.”
That makes it even more complicated. Players spend all year not paying attention to anyone but themselves.
The four categories that get the most attention are majors, tour victories, money list and lowest adjusted scoring average. Donald appears to have the latter wrapped up at 68.86, with Simpson at 69.23.
The money title was last decided in the final week at the 2003 Tour Championship between Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods. Singh had a $768,494 lead and had to finish only in a three-way tie for third. Woods never broke 70 that week, so there wasn’t much drama. Singh won the money title with plenty of room to spare.
Woods won five times that year, compared with Singh’s four wins. Neither won a major. Singh won the money title, Woods the Vardon Trophy. It was said to be a close vote -- the tour doesn’t release the results -- and Woods won player of the year.
Matt Kuchar won the money title last year by $100,855 over Jim Furyk. Neither played the final event at Disney.
“It would have been a nice feather in the cap,” Furyk said. “But at that point, I had won the Tour Championship, I had a great year, I won three times and the FedExCup. And I had an inkling I would win player of the year.”
Ultimately, player of the year is more prestigious than the money list. But in the case of Simpson and Donald, they might not be able to have one without the other.