ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Webb Simpson signed up for the McGladrey Classic because it gave him a shot at winning the PGA Tour money title. He played Thursday as though he was intent on doing just that.
Simpson matched his best score of the year in the opening round at Sea Island, making eight birdies for a 7-under 63 that gave him a share of the lead with tour rookie Zack Miller.
“There’s no way I can play this golf tournament without thinking about the money title,” Simpson said. “I’m thinking about it every day. But I’m not over every shot thinking, ‘This is for the money title.’ It’s more that I’m just trying my best to get focused on winning the golf tournament.”
At this rate, he stands a reasonable chance at both.
Simpson has won twice in his last five tournaments, leaving him $68,971 behind Luke Donald on the money list with two tournaments remaining. Donald isn’t playing this week, and he has until 5 p.m. Friday to decide whether to play Disney next week in the final event of the PGA Tour season.
Also at stake is the PGA Tour player of the year award, with no clear favorite. No player has more than two wins and, while Donald has only one win in the United States, he has been No. 1 in the world since May. For Donald and Simpson, the money title could go a long way in collecting votes.
Simpson needs to finish at least in 15th place alone to surpass Donald, although he looked as if he had bigger plans the way he worked his way around the Seaside course, even as the breeze picked up late in the morning.
Deliberate by nature, Simpson at times switched clubs two or three times, although it paid off on the fourth hole when he went back to a 7-iron and dropped his shot some 4 feet from the cup for a birdie. The only glitch was a poor approach from the middle of the 18th fairway in the middle of his round for a bogey.
Simpson isn’t alone in having money on his mind this week.
Miller is trying not to think about it. He hasn’t made a cut since the Viking Classic in July and has fallen to No. 146 on the money list. If he doesn’t get into the top 150, he’ll have to return to the second stage of Q-school.
But he has tried to take whatever positives he could find out of the last few months, learning to base happiness on something besides his scores. It was hard not to be happy with a 63, especially after going birdie-birdie-eagle early in his round, the longest of those a 4-footer for eagle on No. 15 after a perfect 5-iron.
Martin Piller was tied for the lead until a bogey on the last hole put him in a large group at 64. That included Scott McCarron, who is No. 163 on the money list and birdied his last three holes. McCarron, like so many others in the Fall Series events, is trying to get inside the top 125 to secure his full PGA Tour card for next year.
Also at 64 was Billy Horschel, who is No. 139 on the money list.
They were followed by a group at 65 that included two-time major champion Angel Cabrera, Ben Crane, Nick O’Hern and Richard S. Johnson of Sweden. Johnson had to go through Q-school last year, and started the year with a nagging injury to his right shoulder. He continued to play because he couldn’t afford to fall further down the priority list, and it has cost him.
Johnson is at No. 186 on the money list, headed back to Q-school unless he can turn around his fortunes quickly.
“Now I’ve got to get back to my old swing,” he said. “When you’re swinging injured, you get into some bad habits. I’ve been playing nicely at home, but it’s just a matter of bringing it out here.”
That sounds a lot like Tiger Woods, and Johnson also plays out of The Medalist in south Florida.
“I haven’t shot a 62 yet,” he said, referring to Woods’ setting the course record two weeks ago. “It’s been more like 65 and 66.”
Either way, those scores don’t count when it comes to playing the tour and needing to make something happen quickly.
Bud Cauley, the 21-year-old who left Alabama after his junior season to turn pro this summer, opened with a 68. Cauley is poised to become only the sixth player to go from college to getting his tour card without going through Q-school. He is the equivalent of No. 114 on the money list, and a solid start only helped that cause.
Simpson was as deliberate over his schedule as he is over a golf shot. He said he had some 15 options to consider because of his plans to go overseas for the first time, which includes the Presidents Cup in Australia. He has settled on the Singapore Open a week before the Nov. 17-20 matches at Royal Melbourne.
There was some consideration for Asia, although once he adjusted his international travel to make room for the McGladrey Classic, it was an easy decision.
Even so, he had to switch from vacation mode to find the game that brought him wins in Greensboro and Boston, and it didn’t take long once he left the practice range.
“I did have a little question in my mind, ‘Would I be able to turn the brain back on and get in the competitive mode again?'” Simpson said.
He answered with a 63, matching the score he posted in the third and final round at Plainfield in The Barclays.
Divots: Matt Kuchar, who has earned more than $9 million on the PGA Tour in the last two years, has signed with Excel Sports Management and will be represented by Mark Steinberg. Kuchar joins a golf stable that includes Tiger Woods and former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Danielle Kang. … Tournament host Davis Love III has his son, 17-year-old Dru, caddying for him this week. Love opened with a 69. … Rickie Fowler, coming off his first professional win last week in South Korea, shot 73.