The PGA Tour's Tom Alter stood next to a notebook computer, perched on a small, high table outside the scoring trailer adjacent to the 18th green at the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston on Monday. The numbers that flashed across the screen had been trivial all year; now they meant everything.
Scott Stallings, a native of nearby Worcester and the winner of the Greenbrier Classic in July, climbed up the steps and disappeared into the trailer to sign for a final-round 71, leaving him well back at two under par for the tournament. (He would finish T52.) A blonde woman approached Alter and the computer.
"He's going to go from 38th to 46th," Alter told Jennifer Stallings, Scott's wife. "So he's good for Chicago but he's got some work to do to get to Atlanta. We project it's going to take about 1,800 points to get to the Tour Championship."
Stallings will begin the BMW Championship in Chicago at 1,080 points. Will he make it? Will he not make it? Who cares? It's all good. With the Tour taking a week off before resuming play at Cog Hill next week, some perspective is in order. Making it to the Tour Championship or coming up short is the difference between playing for an ungodly amount of money (FedEx Cup) and playing for very good money (the four-tournament Fall Series, starting in Las Vegas Sept. 29-Oct. 2). Fifteen players have already earned more than $3 million this season. Stallings has made $2 million. Nobody's going hungry here; some people aren't even about to start flying coach.
There's never been a better time to play on the PGA Tour, which last week finalized its next TV deal, a nine-year alliance with CBS and NBC that the Tour says will yield increases in prize money. Terms were not disclosed, but given the rapid decline of Tiger Woods and the moribund economy, Tour commissioner Tim Finchem seems to have met, if not exceeded, expectations — especially since, as the Associated Press pointed out, he signed 10 new tournament title sponsors in the current climate.
With the plethora of playing options, guys like Stallings can't make a wrong turn, which perhaps explained the low-key manner of those whose playoffs ended in Boston. Ian Poulter missed the cut by a stroke and tweeted that he wasn't a bit displeased to see his season end. Padraig Harrington was 76th in FedEx points heading into Monday's final round, with a reasonable shot at cracking the top 70 and getting into the BMW, but he shot a 75 and dropped to 89th. He signed several autographs outside the scoring trailer before packing his things. Ryuji Imada didn't check the computer after hovering around par all four rounds. At 91st he wouldn't make it through, but he smiled as he did an interview for a Japanese TV station.
They were no longer in the running for the $10 million first prize, as Boston winner Webb Simpson is, but washing out of the FedEx Cup is a little like missing your chance with Kim Kardashian. Oh, well — at least she's got sisters.
This is not only the most lucrative time to play on Tour, but it's also one of the most fascinating times to watch it, thanks to an unprecedented wealth of talent. Of all the men who had a chance to win the Deutsche Bank Championship, a deliciously bunched group that included Phil Mickelson and Charl Schwartzel, no one would have picked Chez Reavie to be there at the end. Chez Reavie? Isn't that the Italian place on the corner? There are so many great players it's hard to keep them straight.
"Fred's going to have a tough decision since now he's down to one pick," said 2012 Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III as he packed up his locker Monday.
Captain Couples is committed to picking Woods as one of his two wildcards for the biennial Presidents Cup matches at Royal Melbourne, Nov. 17-20. Now he's got to choose just one name from players outside the top 10: Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Gary Woodland — the list goes on. How's he going to pick just one? Or maybe it's an easy choice because maybe there is no wrong choice.
"Then you look at the guys who are getting ready to come out like Peter Uihlein," said Love, who had an outside shot at advancing to Chicago before shooting a final-round 74 in Boston. "Plus you've got the Georgia guys who won on the Nationwide this year, Harris English and Russell Henley."
In other words, as vexing as the Couples pick now seems, Love's wildcard selections could be even tougher to make next fall. Luckily he gets four of them.
"I just think it's a fascinating time in golf with some of these young guys," said Jim Mackay, whose boss, Phil Mickelson, tied for 10th in Boston. "Even this Patrick Cantlay guy, if he walked up here right now I wouldn't know who he was, but I'm fascinated by what he's accomplished and how young he is and how mature he must be."
Who is the next Woods? That's probably the wrong question, because the game probably will be ruled by committee for the foreseeable future. Schwartzel and Rory McIlroy won the Masters and U.S. Open, respectively, just months after Martin Kaymer captured the PGA Championship, but none of the lavishly praised twentysomethings has proven capable of consistent domination. The same can be said of Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, and now Simpson. Maybe that's not so bad. Maybe it'll lead to more mad dashes to the finish line like the one we saw at Augusta in April.
"I think golf's in a pretty good spot," Mackay said. "You're going to have some epic get-togethers in some of these tournaments."