After a two-week vacation, Webb Simpson might feel as though nothing has changed. He’s playing golf in Georgia, and all anyone can talk about is money.
Only the stakes are a different this time.
This is the second year of the McGladrey Classic, whose inaugural staging was won last year by Heath Slocum.
His most recent tournament was the Tour Championship in Atlanta, where Simpson was trying to capture a $10 million bonus at East Lake, and fell two shots short of winning the FedExCup. Now he’s at a Fall Series event in this sleepy coastal community, with hopes of winning $68,972.
That’s the amount he needs to earn at the McGladrey Classic to pass Luke Donald on the PGA Tour money list.
Winning the PGA Tour money title -- technically known as the Arnold Palmer Trophy -- doesn’t come with a massive bonus, although the five-year exemption on tour might come in handy. What appeals to the 26-year-old Simpson is his place in history.
“You’re probably added to a list of maybe 50 guys,” Simpson said.
There have been 37 players who won the PGA Tour money title dating to 1934, and it would be hard to call many of them a fluke. Tiger Woods won it a record nine times, followed by Jack Nicklaus eight times, with Ben Hogan and Tom Watson winning five times each.
Simpson still thinks the emphasis should be placed on the FedExCup, which Bill Haas captured last month in winning the Tour Championship. Then again, one component of the FedExCup is getting hot at the right time -- mainly the month after the final major -- while the money title also represents a year’s worth of good play.
“They’re probably equally as hard to win,” Simpson said.
And it might be easier for him to keep track of what he has to do on the Seaside Course at Sea Island. It still requires math, only it’s about money instead of points. And it helps that so few people from high on the money list are playing.
Simpson is the only player with a mathematical chance of catching Donald, although the McGladrey Classic has a surprisingly strong field for its second year of existence. The tournament has nine of the top 30 players from the money list, including Matt Kuchar, David Toms, Brandt Snedeker and Vijay Singh. Bryce Molder is playing after winning his first PGA Tour event last week in the Frys.com Open, where he outlasted Briny Baird on the sixth playoff hole. Rickie Fowler also is coming off his first professional win at the Korea Open.
Molder has some history at Sea Island. He played in the 2001 Walker Cup, held on the Ocean Forest course, and went unbeaten that week even though the Americans lost the cup. Molder won both singles matches against Graeme McDowell, who also is in the field this week.
Still, it’s all about Simpson’s pursuit of Donald -- and perhaps an even greater award.
The FedExCup playoffs were supposed to help decide who might be voted PGA Tour player of the year. Instead, they decided very little. No one has won more than two tournaments on the PGA Tour this year. The four playoff events were won by four players. One of them was Simpson, who has won twice since the PGA Championship ended and lost in a playoff in New Orleans.
“I still need to do a little something more to get player of the year,” Simpson said. “If I could somehow squeak it out and win the money list, that would just help.”
Donald could still enter the season-ending tournament next week at Disney if Simpson were to pass him on the money list. The title might be more historic for Donald, as no one has ever won the European Tour and PGA Tour money titles in the same year, and the Englishman has a healthy lead in Europe.
Money also is significant to 21-year-old Bud Cauley.
He is on the verge of becoming on the sixth player to go straight from college to the PGA Tour without having to go through Q-School. Cauley, who left Alabama this summer after his junior season, should be safe. He is equivalent to No. 114 on the money list, and with only two tournaments left, it is unlikely he would fall 11 spots.
This is his eighth tournament since he turned pro at the U.S. Open, and the first time Cauley knows the golf course, having played Seaside several times in college and as a junior growing up in north Florida.
“It’s always nice to look back on a good week and take the positives from it,” Cauley said of his third-place finish at the Frys.com Open. “But a quick turnaround, and now I’m just focused on this week and trying to play well again.”
That’s what Simpson is trying to do, for about 70,000 reasons. He likely would need to finish about 15th or better to pass Donald.