Game Of Inches
Players 2022: Tommy Fleetwood came dangerously close to playing his way out of the TPC Sawgrass field
Two years ago this week, you could pencil Tommy Fleetwood into every major event, including the Players Championship, on the PGA Tour schedule. Coming off a solo third in the 2020 Honda Classic, Fleetwood had risen to 10th in the Official World Golf Ranking, the second-highest mark of his career.
Then, COVID hit, shutting down the golf season and any momentum Fleetwood had during the Florida Swing and leading into the spring. The stoppage and eventual restart affected every pro differently, though international players like Fleetwood, who splits time between his home country of England and America, had a tougher time regaining form.
Since the return Fleetwood's results have been a mixed bag. There have been a number of highs (T-10 at the 2021 API, T-7 at the 2021 Zozo), but the excessive amount of middling finished have outweighed the good, causing Fleetwood to quickly drop in the World Ranking.
This past week's missed cut at the Honda Classic put Fleetwood in serious danger of missing out on next week's Players Championship, an event he owns a pair of top-seven finishes at in his last three appearances. Had he fallen outside the top 50 in the OWGR, he would have not been exempt into the PGA Tour's flagship event.
As the PGA Tour's Rob Bolton pointed out, Fleetwood began the week at 44th but his missed cut brought a number of outcomes into play that could have bounced the Englishman from TPC Sawgrass. PGA Tour rookie Cameron Young, not yet eligible for the Players, made the cut and needed a 17th place finish to jump from 53rd to 50th, which would have earned him a spot in the field. Mackenzie Hughes, who began the week ranked 52nd, needed to finish no worse than 13th to knock out Fleetwood.
Hughes, already exempt into the Players field, finished T-48, the first bullet dodged for Fleetwood. But Young shot a final-round 65 that saw him vault up the leader board, enough for a share of 16th. But because it was a nine-way tie for 16th, it was only enough for Young to jump to 51st in the OWGR. Fleetwood dropped from 44th to 50th, getting him into the Players by a literal hair, and not one of Tommy's luscious locks.
As Bolton also writes, Young should still plan to play at TPC Sawgrass next week. There are spots reserved for the top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings through the Honda Classic, but all of the current top 10 are already exempt into the Players field. The same ranking in order outside the top 10 is used to fill the field, and, at 15th in the standings, Young is next in line.
As for Fleetwood, we will see him this week and next at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players, two events he's played well in, historically. The only major event he is not currently exempt in is the U.S. Open, though he still has plenty of opportunities to gain entry (winning the Players is one of them).