(Photo credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
The Fortinet Championship used to denote the start of a new PGA Tour season, but not anymore.
The stakes are far different this week as the reimagined FedEx Cup fall series begins with the Fortinet, starting Thursday at Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif.
With the PGA Tour returning to a calendaryear season (as opposed to wraparound seasons, a la 2022-23), the seven fall events after the Tour Championship needed a new purpose. Now they will serve to finalize players' eligibility for next year.
The top 125 players in Cup points after the seven events will retain their PGA Tour cards for 2024. The top 50 from this summer's FedEx Cup playoffs are locked in and do not need to keep playing, but from No. 51 -- that would be Mackenzie Hughes of Canada -- on down, there's plenty at risk.
Those who finish Nos. 51-60 will qualify for two signature events next year: the ATT Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Genesis Invitational.
Max Homa doesn't have to worry about any of that, having reached the Tour Championship and tied for ninth place. But the Californian is the two-time defending champion at the Fortinet and the highest-ranked player in this week's field.
"However I play this week means almost nothing other than my world rank, but I would love to win this thing three times in a row," Homa said.
The last person to win the same tournament three years in a row was Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic, 2009 through 2011.
Homa and Justin Thomas are the only two U.S. Ryder Cup players competing at the Fortinet, although captain Zach Johnson and vice captain Stewart Cink are there, too. Thomas, a controversial captain's pick after his below-average season, has more to worry about than warming up for Rome.
Thomas is not in danger of losing his tour card -- he is fully exempt through 2027 after winning the 2022 PGA Championship -- but he could be excluded from the first few signature events of 2024 and the high purses that accompany them.
Unless he wins one of the fall tournaments, Thomas won't qualify for The Sentry (formerly known as the Sentry Tournament of Champions), and if he doesn't crack the top 60 in points, he's out of Pebble Beach and the Genesis. Thomas begins the week No. 71 in the points standings.
"The fact that I feel like I have been held -- not only because of myself but everybody else's expectations of me -- held to a high standard, that clearly means that somebody thinks something decent of me as a golfer," Thomas said. "So that's a good way to look at it. ... I'm excited for these next couple months and tournaments here and there that I'm playing in and once we get rolling in '24."
Aaron Baddeley will make his 500th career start on the PGA Tour. The Australian said Napa reminds him of home.
"I grew up in the Yarra Valley winery area, very similar, the hills with the brown grass with the trees," Baddeley said. "I remember when I first came here, I was like, 'Wait, am I back in Australia right now?' So it makes it pretty cool.
"To be out here that long, 24 years, and playing pretty much a full schedule, yeah, it's been pretty great. Also feel like I've got some great golf in front of me, too, which is more exciting."
--Field Level Media