GOLF

Understanding Sunday’s stakes at the Pinnacle Bank Championship

ADVERTISEMENT

ELKHORN, Neb. – Philip Knowles booked two flights to leave Omaha after the Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Aetna.

Why? He doesn’t know where he is going.

ADVERTISEMENT

Knowles arrived in Omaha for the Korn Ferry Tour regular season finale at No. 87 on the list of regular season eligible points. A remarkable mix of storylines exist depending on how he behaves at the Club in Indian Creek. He could leave Nebraska with a PGA TOUR card in hand, or with a three-month hiatus until Q-School’s Stage Two gauntlet.

The adopted resident of Jacksonville, Fla. could crack the top 85 to earn a spot at the Q-School Finals…or crack the top 75 to retain full Korn Ferry Tour status and earn a spot at the Korn Ferry Tour Final… or finish in the top 25 (with a win) to earn your first PGA TOUR card.

The possibilities are dizzying. It’s the epitome of why the Korn Ferry Tour regular season finale is known by some as the biggest week in sports.

“I have two flights booked,” Knowles said. “We’re going to Boise, we’re going to Jacksonville. This is the bottom line. It’s a crazy week in golf. There is a lot to do and careers are at stake.”

The 156-player field descended on The Club at Indian Creek, a seemingly tranquil setting, with a cobweb of scenarios ready to unfold.

With 25 PGA TOUR cards awarded through the regular season, the meritocratic structure of the Korn Ferry Tour goes up crescendo over the weekend in Omaha. The week started with 15 TOUR cards cemented, and England’s Harry Hall stitched up the 16th card with a cut made.

Tyson Alexander and Kevin Yu entered the week ranked 17th and 18th respectively. Both missed the cut but have a roughly 99.9% chance of winning a TOUR map on Sunday afternoon, needing to avoid a perfect mix of scenarios that would require a specific set of players to shoot record-like rounds on sunday.

Harrison Endycott (No. 19 in the week) made the cut and stands T41 on Sunday. With his Aussie father in attendance, Endycott embraced the emotions of the week – he wept during a post-round interview on Friday, thinking about what his father meant to his career and wishing his late mother could have been a part of the week. Endycott is also on the verge of his map, having to avoid a specific set of scenarios.

Trevor Cone (#20) is in a similar position to Endycott, having made the cut and standing T29 through Sunday. The Virginia Tech alum took down the PGA TOUR app this week and turned off notifications on Instagram and Twitter, in an effort to avoid distractions. He is on the proverbial bottom rung of the ladder; all that remains is to cross the finish line.

The bubble becomes cloudy in the hunt for the last five cards. Anders Albertson (No. 21 in the week) missed the cut and can only watch the standings as those in close pursuit vie for position.

Numbers 22 through 26 on the qualifying points list — Kevin Roy, Ben Taylor, Vincent Norrman, Michael Kim and Brandon Harkins respectively — were all selected in Omaha. They go head-to-head while aiming to overtake Albertson and are also keeping a close eye on those further down the points list who hold places in contention until Sunday and could take last-minute spots inside the 25 – like Knowles, Will Gordon, Kevin Dougherty, Mac Meissner and Austin Eckroat.

Ben Taylor, No. 23 on the qualifying points list, shot a third-round 62 in Omaha to take a share of the 54-hole lead. The Englishman has maintained tunnel vision this week as he targets a TOUR return after winning a TOUR card for the first time via The Finals 25 in 2019. Taylor lost a practice match on Tuesday to Erik Compton, lighting up perhaps a proverbial fire – Compton was within reach for Taylor’s post-round interview on Saturday after hitting a back-nine 29 to go on the sidelines of the discord at 6 under.

Taylor has already experienced bubble vibes in the regular season finale. He was on the wrong side in 2017, missing the cut in Portland only to fall short of a place in the final via the top 75. He retooled and picked up guaranteed Korn Ferry Tour starts via the Q-School Finals and progressed on his bow for the round. Now he yearns for a solid Sunday in Omaha to cement a comeback.

“We talked about it in practice rounds, we talked about it on the phone,” Taylor said in response to Compton’s interview question. “We’re in this (bubble) position now, and that’s the last thing I think about. It just goes to show that you have to put your head in the right position, I have to walk in the right direction, and I think that it all depends on my experience, I certainly feel a lot more comfortable being in this position under pressure than I did five years ago.

Roy, No. 22, made nine bogeys on Saturday but gutted a 2 of 73 to go on to earn his first TOUR card. With family and friends in attendance, the former medical device sales rep aims to channel peak performance and wrap up the regular season strong, then see where the chips fall. He needs a two-way T43 or better to pass Albertson, which could prove a crucial domino.

Vincent Norrman, from Sweden, entered the week at No. 24, stands T29 until Sunday and is expected to remain at No. 24. The Korn Ferry Tour rookie has demonstrated an accelerated learning curve with 12 cuts made in 20 starts, including two in the top three. finishes. The former confectionery worker is aiming for a sweet Sunday in Omaha.

Former TOUR winner Michael Kim entered week No. 25, holds T22 until Sunday and is projected to No. 23, aiming to put the bow on a remarkable comeback after a substantial slump where he n Only made one 36-hole cut over a two-year period. Kim entered the week with nine top-25 finishes in his last 10 starts, and he’s maintaining form during the week when he needs it most.

Veteran pro Brandon Harkins entered the week at No. 26, stands T34 through Sunday and is projected at No. 27. The California native won the Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at Abaco Club in January, but posted results up and down for the majority of the season, setting the stage for a pivotal Sunday in Nebraska.

Others poised to blow up the party in the 11th hour include precocious 20-year-old Akshay Bhatia, who entered week No. 30 on the qualifying points list and ranks T13 in Omaha. He projected the No. 29 but could be birdies away from a projected spot in The 25.

TJ Vogel, winner of the Club Car Championship at The Landings Club, No. 31 on the week’s qualifying points list, is also T13 and is projected at No. 30.

Infinite permutations are at stake. Lives will change at the end of Sunday’s final round of the Korn Ferry Tour’s 2022 regular season.

How that will play out is anyone’s guess.

The biggest week in sports, indeed.

ADVERTISEMENT