PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP)Sometimes the Masters can generate enormous pressure for a player who still doesn’t have a spot in the field. That’s what Keith Mitchell is feeling.
He came into The Players Championship at No. 47 in the world, knowing Augusta National will take the top 50 in two weeks after the Match Play. He felt he was playing well, with a tie for fourth at Pebble Beach and a fifth-place finish at Riviera.
And then he made bogey from the middle of the fairway on the par-5 ninth at the TPC Sawgrass that he thought would cause him to miss the cut. Instead, Luke List made double bogey, which allowed Mitchell two more rounds.
He had a 68-70 weekend and tied for 35th. He stayed at No. 47 and couldn’t help but wonder what could have been.
“I three-putted the last hole and made two bogeys from the middle of the fairway with a wedge,” Mitchell said. “Those are the things that make you finish 30th or 40th instead of continuing to climb the leaderboard. Just silly mistakes.”
From a probable missed cut to a tie for 35th, he said he was “decently satisfied.” What he needs is a little more freedom, which can be hard to find when the Masters means that much.
“Being 47th in the world, trying to get into Augusta, I put a lot of extra pressure on myself and I think it showed,” he said Sunday. “I didn’t play like I thought I was playing. The three-putt on the last hole could be a deal-breaker. But we still have Austin to play well.”
Mitchell has played five of the last six weeks and is taking a break. The final event to stay in the top 50 is the Dell Match Play in Austin, Texas, next week. The ranking points will be strong. Then again, everyone around him will be there. Getting out of group stage likely would be crucial.
Mitchell has been in this spot before. He went into the FedEx Cup playoffs last season at No. 37, knowing the top 30 who advance to the Tour Championship get into the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and, except in rare circumstances, the PGA Championship.
He finished just outside the top 30 in both playoff events and finished his season at No. 39 in the FedEx Cup.
“I know we’re always trying to play our best, but this one felt like a little more pressure,” he said. “Whether that came from the extra thought of trying to make the Masters? Could be.”
THE ELITE TOUR
The PGA Tour set a new landscape that provides the richest tournaments (eight of them with no cuts) for the top 50 in the FedEx Cup. That starts with being among the top 70 who reach the postseason. And while nine elevated events remain, it might not be long before some players start to feel the pressure.
U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who played only once in the fall because of his European tour schedule, has missed three cuts in his last five starts and is No. 92.
Cameron Young is at No. 79 while Will Zalatoris, who is returning from a back injury that knocked him out of the BMW Championship last year, is at No. 85. Zalatoris only has one top 10 since his return this year.
Jordan Spieth has top 10s in Phoenix and Bay Hill, tied for 19th in The Players Championship and needed that just to move to No. 65. He is one spot ahead of Justin Thomas, who played once in the fall (he got married) and has finished inside the top 20 only once this year.
All of them have four majors and plenty of tournaments ahead of them. But there is only a little more than four months left in the season.
LIV AND THE OWGR
LIV Golf returns to competition this week still without acceptance into the Official World Golf Ranking system, and the numbers keep falling. If it ever does get ranking points for its 54-hole events with a 48-man league, the climb back keeps getting taller.
The latest example is Brooks Koepka, a four-time major champion who fell outside the top 100 in the world for the first time since October 2013. Since joining LIV, Koepka has played in three OWGR events – he missed the cut at the British Open and an Asian Tour stop in Oman, and he tied for 46th in the Saudi International.
Going into this week’s Arizona tournament, LIV Golf has one player from the top 25 (Cameron Smith at No. 5), six in the top 50 and 17 from the top 100. Six of those players are at No. 75 and lower.
Paul Casey is No. 94 and certain to be out of the top 100 before long. That’s relevant because the PGA Championship in May has a category for players from the previous Ryder Cup team provided they remain in the top 100 in the world.
The LPGA Tour resumes next week in Arizona, and then it has one tournament in Los Angeles before the deadline to qualify for the International Crown.
Jennifer Kupcho and Yuka Saso are among those on both sides of the bubble.
The event is among the best new formats in golf over the last 10 years – eight countries of four players competing with a combination of fourballs and foursomes and singles. It will be played May 4-7 at Harding Park.
The eight countries were confirmed after last season – the United States, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, England, China, Sweden and Australia. The four players are determined by the world ranking through the LA Open on April 2.
Lilia Vu winning the Honda LPGA Thailand moved her into position. She now is No. 11 in the world for the third spot on the U.S. team, three spots ahead of Danielle Kang. Kupcho, who won her first major last year, is at No. 18 and has work to do.
Saso won the U.S. Women’s Open two years ago playing for the Philippines and now competes for Japan. She is No. 33 in the world and has the fourth spot, just ahead of Mao Saigo, who is at No. 34. Saigo plays the Japan LPGA, is in the field this week and there are two more events after the cutoff.
Australia will come down to Sarah Kemp (170) and Grace Kim (179), while the final three spots for Thailand are among five players from No. 68 to No. 91.
Five players earned $1 million or more at The Players Championship with its $25 million purse, up from three players a year ago at $20 million. … Six of the last 10 winners of The Players Championship have been No. 1 in the world at some point in their careers. … Scottie Scheffler needed only 26 starts after his first PGA Tour title to get his sixth. Over the last 40 years, only Tiger Woods (16) and David Duval (21) got there sooner. … Padraig Harrington makes his first start on the PGA Tour Champions. He has been playing (and making the cut) on the European tour and PGA Tour. This will be his first tournament since being elected to the 2024 Class of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
STAT OF THE WEEK
All but two winners of The Players Championship the last 10 years are major champions. The exceptions are Si Woo Kim (2017) and Rickie Fowler (2015).
“You have to clip that, me actually smiling on the golf course.” – Tyrrell Hatton on NBC as the temperamental Englishman watched video of himself laughing during his 65 in the final round of The Players Championship.
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