Last year’s PGA Tour season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic was very unique. Normally, you won’t see any top players competing at Disney because they are either resting from the long season or off playing lucrative silly season events or in Europe. The multi-millionaires are “above” playing in the Fall Series.
But in 2011, world No. 1 Luke Donald added this tournament to his schedule at the last minute. Why? Because Donald was attempting to become the first player ever to win the money list titles on the PGA and European Tours. He was leading the PGA Tour list before Webb Simpson finished runner-up in the tournament prior to the CMN Hospitals Classic and jumped over Donald. So Donald quickly added the event but had to finish either first or second (and second only if Simpson finished lower than eighth).to pass Simpson.
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Donald was four shots out of the lead (and behind Simpson) as he made the turn Sunday but made six straight birdies on the back-nine to pass Simpson and take control of the tournament. His final round 8-under 64 was good for a two-shot victory over Justin Leonard. It won Donald the money list and the PGA Tour Player of the Year award. He would go on to win the Race to Dubai on the European Tour.
You won’t find Donald or any other highly-ranked player this time. Donald is skipping it because his daughter is having a medical procedure, but in a classy move he made a large donation to a hospital in Chicago that is part of the Children's Miracle network.
The real storyline is those players hovering around the magic number of 125 on the money list. Finish at 125 or better and you earn fully exempt status for 2013 (if you weren’t already for winning a tournament, etc). But this year that’s even more important because the Fall Series goes away after this tournament and the 2013-14 PGA Tour season will start next October. That gives players only about eight months next year to get into the Top 125 on the money list heading into the FedEx Cup playoffs and get exempt for the 2013-14 season -- the Wyndham Championship from Aug. 15-18 is the final regular-season event in 2013.
What is now as the Fall Series, along with two tournaments in Asia, will be the start of the new wraparound season. But the PGA Tour hasn’t announced the start of the 2013-14 schedule as it assures sponsors – a tournament or two could perhaps move. For example, this tournament, which has been played at Disney since 1971, could be played for the final time this week as it searches for a new sponsor.
Qualifying school now only will be used as an avenue to reach the Web.com Tour (formerly Nationwide), which will also be the way for those outside the Top 125 to earn their PGA Tour cards. The Web.com Tour’s regular season will award 25 cards based on its final money list. Then that tour will end with four Finals events, which will determine the remaining 25 cards, based on cumulative earnings in those tournaments. The field makeup for the Finals will include the Top 75 from the Web.com Tour money list and those finishing 126-200 on the PGA Tour money list. The Web.com Tour Finals will coincide with FedEx Cup, with last event ending the week after the Tour Championship.
Got all that?
This CMN Hospitals Classic is played on the Palm and Magnolia courses at Disney in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Each golfer gets one round on Palm before the cut and only the Magnolia is used on the weekend. The Palm is the much easier track and, according to the PGA Tour, all but one of the last 11 champions of this event have carded a 68 or lower at Palm. Last year the Palm course had a scoring average of 69.578, while the Magnolia, which is 500 yards longer, was 71.367.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: CMN Hospitals Classic Favorites
Robert Garrigus and Brendon De Jonge are the 14/1 favorites at Bovada, and neither has any money list concerns. Garrigus, the highest-ranked player in the field, has missed the cut two of the past three years at this event but won it at 21-under in 2010. That remains his lone win, although he has finished second three times this year. He didn’t play well last week in China with a T51 but hasn’t missed a cut since the U.S. Open.
De Jonge has yet to have a Top-10 finish in three tries at Disney and is looking for his first PGA Tour win. He has been close, finishing no worse than T4 in his past three tournaments overall.
Jonas Blixt is at 18/1. The Swede got his first career PGA Tour win last month at the Frys.com Open and, thus, will be exempt next year. However, winning a Fall Series event doesn’t get a player in the Masters because those tournaments don’t award FedEx Cup points. Blixt is No. 35 in the money, and anyone inside the Top 30 at the end of the year does gain entry into the following season’s Masters. So he has plenty of motivation.
Charles Howell III (22/1), Ryan Palmer and Henrik Stenson (each 25/1) round out the favorites. Howell is safely inside the Top 125 but hasn’t had a particularly good year, although he enters off two Top-15s on the Fall Series. He has played this tournament 11 times, with two Top-10s. In fact, 33 of his 40 career rounds are under par. Palmer won in his first trip to Disney in 2004 and was T3 the next year but hasn’t had a Top 10 since. He hasn’t contended this year since June. Stenson made his Disney debut last year and was T12. The Swede has played just 14 PGA Tour events this year with one Top 10 but has been faring well in Europe recently.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: CMN Hospitals Classic Picks
There are no Top-10 props this week but a few Top-5s. Go “yes” on Blixt (+350) but “no” on Garrigus and De Jonge (both -450). I also like Blixt as the top European at 2/1 but definitely believe an American is the winning nationality (-450).
My favorite head-to-head prop is Justin Leonard (-130) vs. Jason Kokrak (even). Leonard needed a big finish last year here to keep his card and finished runner-up for the second time in three years. He needs another good result to get into the Top 125 this year, although he can use a special one-year exemption next season. Leonard has never finished outside the Top 125 on the PGA Tour money list in his career.
I am really tempted to roll the dice on Camilo Villegas at 80/1 as he is No. 155 on the money list and must have a great result to keep his card. Hard to believe considering this guy looked like a rising superstar a few years ago. He has yet to have a Top 10 this year.
But I am going with Davis Love III at 30/1. I think it would be a great ending to the season for Love to win after the U.S. team’s collapse under his captaincy at the Ryder Cup. Love’s last victory came in the 2008 version of this event. That was No. 20 of his career, which made him eligible for the Hall of Fame (finished second in voting this year behind Fred Couples). Love is the all-time money winner at this event and finished T4 in the last Fall Series event, the McGladrey Classic.