How small will the FedEx Cup field be?

Talor Gooch, U.S. Open, Brookline,Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Talor Gooch, U.S. Open, Brookline,Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports /

The FedEx Cup series begins Aug. 11 with the FedEx-St. Jude Classic in Memphis. That much we know.

What we don’t know is how many players will tee it up in Memphis. Will it be the requisite 125, or will only 119 of the Tour’s best be invited to compete for the eventual $18 million first prize.

It could also be some number in between. Or, if there are further defections to the LIV Tour, the number may be even smaller than 119.

The uncertainty involves how the PGA Tour will handle the cases of players who racked up enough points to qualify for the FedEx Cup series and then bolted for the LIV Tour.

There are at this moment at least six such players: Talor Gooch, Matt Jones, Brooks Koepka, Carlos Ortiz, Hudson Swafford, and Matthew Wolff.

Six other LIV players have earned some FedEx cup points this season, but not enough to make their qualification for the big-money season-ending series likely…at least not in a normal season.

Last year it took 440 points to make the top 125. Among LIV players, Abraham Ancer has the most points short of 440; he has 439 entering this week’s British Open.

Carlos Ortiz has 414, Brooks Koepka 412, Pat Perez 345, and Ian Poulter 165. All but Poulter are inside the current top 125, although with a month remaining on the Tour schedule their ranking is certain to fall somewhat.

All 12 of the above-named players have been suspended, and since the Tour has no realistic political alternative the presumption is that those suspensions will be enforced when the FedEx Cup series begins. So it must be presumed that all of them are out.

But left unclear is the answer to the follow-up question: Will the PGA Tour fill out the reduced field by allowing the highest-ranking non-qualifiers to play? Or will the St. Jude simply begin with a light field…possibly a very light one?

The FedEx Cup rules imply the latter.

The pertinent rule states that “the top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings are eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs.”  The word “eligible” plainly suggests that 125 may take part, not that 125 always will.

Just last season, the field for the opening playoff event, the Northern Trust, was reduced to 123 by withdrawals. That was also the number who started play in 2020.

But of course, it is one thing to lose a player or two to an injury, and possibly another to have the field reduced by a half dozen, especially if those half dozen are conspicuous names. Some will be.

Although he hasn’t played a PGA Tour event – aside from the U.S. Open and this week’s British Open – since the end of May, Gooch remains the 16th ranked player based on FedEx Cup points.

If, given the unusual circumstances, the Tour decides to flesh out its St. Jude field by inviting the most-eligible non-qualifiers to flesh out the field, who would that be?

Here  are the players who presently rank between 120 and 130 on the points list; in other words, those in the greatest jeopardy if the St. Jude field isn’t fleshed out, but who stand to benefit if it is:

120: Nick Taylor; 121. Kramer Hickok; 122. Kevin Tway; 123. Robert Streb; 124. Rickie Fowler; 125. Stewart Cink; 126. Martin Laird; 127. Max McGreevy; 128. Paul Casey; 129. Michael Thompson; 130. Stephen Jaeger.

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You can cross off Casey’s name; he declared two weeks ago that he will play in the next LIV Golf event at Trump Bedminster in two weeks. When he does, he will be suspended.

But McGreevy, Thompson, and a few others will be keeping their fingers crossed that the FedEx Cup series bends its own rules ever so slightly to flesh out the post-season field to something approaching a normal number.