It is unusual, to say the least, that a defending champion would need a sponsor's exemption to get into a tournament field. That is exactly what happened this week at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C.
McIlroy, the youngster from Northern Ireland who won last year's event with a scintillating final-round 62, dropped his PGA Tour membership at the end of the year. Thus, despite being the defending champ, he needed a sponsor's exemption to play this week. That was a no-brainer because he's probably been the most attention-getting golfer this year, thanks to his Masters lead and subsequent meltdown followed by a near-miss the next week in Malaysia.
Lee Westwood, currently ranked No. 1 in the world, has also used a pair of sponsors' exemptions to play on the U.S. tour this year. This is McIlroy's first exemption. Non-members are allowed a maximum of seven exemptions. There is no limit on how many exemptions PGA Tour members can receive.
That's good because Brad Faxon scored a turkey this week--he landed his third straight exemption. (Note: In bowling, three strikes in a row is known as a turkey. Just ask Carmen Salvino.) So did Sam Saunders, whose exemption coincided with grandfather Arnold Palmer agreeing to play in the Wells Fargo pro-am on Wednesday.
Faxon, who has yet to make a cut this year in the seven previous events in which he received exemptions, was unable to extend his lead in SI's Ex-Men Cup, our year-long standings that keep track of who gets sponsors' exemptions. Joe Ogilvie got his second straight exemption to stay one behind Faxon. Saunders, who is allowed only one more exemption, is tied for third with Scott McCarron at six.
The last three PGA Tour events haven't fared well with their sponsors' exemptions. Only four of 25 players who got exemptions made the cut. No player competing on an exemption has finished inside the top 25 since Scott Stallings placed third at the Transitions Championship in March.
The Transitions Championship was also the last time a Monday qualifier made the cut--Will Claxton, who finished 67th. Sponsors' Exemptions Standings (Cuts made)8 Brad Faxon (0) 7 Joe Ogilvie (2) 6 Scott McCarron (2) 6 Sam Saunders (2) 4 John Daly (1) 4 Charles Warren (0) 3 Lee Janzen (2) 3 Will MacKenzie (0) Money Won by Players Playing on Exemption $374,000 Scott Stallings $251,600 John Cook $222,650 Gary Woodland $177,375 Shigeki Maruyama $132,425 Sam Saunders $126,680 Joe Ogilvie $88,000 Peter Hanson $82,650 Justin Hicks $55,481 Martin Kaymer $55,481 Matteo Manassero $71,304 Lee Westwood $34,965 Brett Quigley $34,875 Dicky Pride $34,432 Scott Piercy $33,250 Jason Gore