High-stakes shoot-out at Disney for Donald and Simpson

Webb Simpson and Luke Donald vie for all the marbles at this week's PGA Tour fall series finale (Graphic: PGATour.com)

After all the hand-wringing over Tiger Woods’ never-ending losing skid, purists’ gnashing of teeth about long putters, and the annual yawn-fest that is the FedEx Cup series of “playoffs,” the 2012 PGA Tour season comes down to this: an old-fashioned shoot-out between world No. 1 Luke Donald and money-title leader Webb Simpson to see who can grab the most cash.
That there’s a big stake at stake in the tour’s actual year-ending event on Disney’s Magnolia and Palm Courses brings a measure of excitement to the fall series finale that even the most ardent golf fans may consider an after-thought to the regular season. And make no mistake; while bubble boys like James Driscoll and Bobby Gates (125th and 124th on the money list, respectively) are playing for their tour cards, the boys with deep pockets are vying for bragging rights atop a huge pile of Benjamins, Grants, and all other manner of U.S. currency.
Donald, who had counted on topping the money registers on both the PGA and European Tours, entered this week’s tilt after Simpson made his move up the money ladder.
“Everyone knows why I’m here, looking forward to try and win possibly both money lists,” the Englishman told reporters on Wednesday. “I wanted to make a concerted effort to do that.”
There’s also the matter of who’ll ring up the player of the year award. While winning the four-man Grand Slam event on Wednesday should not sway voters, PGA champ Keegan Bradley has an outside shot at the post-season accolade, as do other two-time 2011 winners Nick Watney, Bubba Watson, Steve Stricker, and Mark Wilson.
It’s likely, however, that the guy who walks away with the loot will win not only the five-year PGA Tour exemption that goes with the gravy, but PoY honors as well. While Donald is the only potential candidate without two wins on U.S. soil, the Englishman hoped that his three worldwide victories would factor into the balloting.
“I guess I’m trying to toot my own horn a little bit, but the domination in the world rankings and how many points I’ve earned this year,” Donald said. “I’ve won three times around the world, only once in the U.S., but yeah, hopefully these are things that will be considered.”
Simpson, who’s won twice in the last two months, boosted his opponent as the world’s best player.
“To have the success he’s had winning on both tours, being on top of the European Tour money list and on top of the PGA Tour money list most of year is really incredible,” Simpson said in a Wednesday press conference.

With all that in mind, and so that you can keep up with Golf Channel’s Steve Sands – should he take to the whiteboard as he did during the FedEx Cup to explain the inexplicable points system — we offer a quick and dirty primer on what Donald must do to overtake Simpson for the riches.
Donald, with $5,837,214, begins the week $363,029 behind Simpson, who furthered his cause with a second-place finish at last week’s McGladrey Classic. For Donald to have a chance at the brass ring, he must finish in at least a two-way tie for second, which would bag $413,600.
But even that ending would depend on several variables. A Donald victory, for example, would net him $846,000, but Simpson would still capture the flag if he grabbed second place and its $507,600 paycheck.
As with the FedEx Cup equations, you may need an advanced calculus degree to follow all the potential scenarios, which involve solo-second and eighth-place finishes, a two-way tie for runner-up, a four-player pile-up for 21st, and on and on. It’s safe to say that Donald has his work cut out for him, since the lead for the money title has changed only once in the last week of the season, when Tom Lehman surpassed Phil Mickelson in 1996.
The tour, by the way, hoped to maximize the entertainment by pairing the two money boys together for the first and second rounds of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. Continuing a theme, Driscoll and Gates will be able to keep tabs on each other, as they will play in the same group on Thursday and Friday as well. Driscoll, by the way, got off to a sizzling par, birdie, birdie, birdie start and was the early first-round leader at 3-under through four holes.
Game on, gentlemen.

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