Another American saves Poulter from losing tour status

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) For the second time in 18 months, Ian Poulter was spared at the last minute from losing his tour membership.

Both times, it was an American to the rescue.

Go back to late October in 2015 when Poulter was bumped out of the HSBC Champions at the last minute and there were no tournaments left for him to fulfill his minimum requirement to keep European Tour membership, which he needed to be eligible for the Ryder Cup.

Rich Beem bailed him out by giving Poulter his sponsor exemption to the Hong Kong Open.

Poulter wound up missing the Ryder Cup because of a foot injury that cost him five months, and that injury ultimately led to his second lifeline.

He had 10 tournaments on a major medical extension to make enough money (or FedEx Cup points) to secure his full PGA Tour card for the rest of the season. He appeared to come up short in his last event when he missed the cut in the Valero Texas Open.

And then it was Brian Gay to the rescue.

Gay also was playing under a major medical extension (back) and made it with room to spare with a tie for sixth at Hilton Head and the Texas Open, and he figured that would be more than enough money ($626,195) for him to get into The Players Championship.

But when the tour told Gay he was 28 FedEx Cup points short of qualifying for The Players, he started investigating.

Gay remembered that the tour changed its points distribution this year to reflect the breakdown of awarding money. The tour had deemed that too many points were awarded lower down the leaderboard, particularly in the range of 30th to 50th places.

However, because Gay (and Poulter) suffered their injuries before the changes, Gay argued that the old points distribution should have applied. He asked his wife if the previous year's player handbook was around. She found it and Gay started applying the math.

''I immediately found 30 points and thought, `OK, now we're getting somewhere.' And that point, I thought I had to bring that up,'' Gay said.

He called Andy Pazder, the tour's chief of operations, and the tour agreed that a major medical extension was essentially about allowing a player the chance to keep his card if he had not been injured. After a quick review, the tour made the change - not just for Gay, but any player affected by it.

''He called me and mentioned Ian,'' Gay said. ''And I thought, `I just got Ian his tour card back.' For me, it was just about getting in The Players. For Ian, it was about getting his status back.''

Gay said he sent Poulter a text that said, ''How happy are you?'' He said Poulter replied with, ''I friggin' love you,'' followed by three red hearts.

''He had no idea,'' Gay said.

Poulter also is eligible for The Players Championship.

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HARMAN'S LOT: Brian Harman is one of the faster players on the PGA Tour, and while he doesn't have a solution for improving the pace, he has noticed how unfairly it punishes players in the first few groups of the weekday rounds. Those are the groups more likely to be timed because after a while, the course bogs down.

His first two years on tour, Harman was in what he called the ''rookie category,'' meaning he was in the final groups of each draw. He said his groups were put on the clock two times all season.

''The next year, I was in the first three groups and I was put on the clock six times,'' he said. ''And I was the 12th-fastest guy based on ShotLink data. They sent me a letter saying, `See what you can do to help out.' I sent them one back and said, `What do I do? I'm your 12th-fastest player.'''

Harman won the 2014 John Deere Classic and was moved into the ''winner's category,'' which is in the middle of the pack. Harman said his group was put on the clock once in 2+ years.

''I'm back into the first three groups,'' he said. ''I've already been timed five times this year.''

Being put on the clock can be costly. If a player is put on the clock 10 times in a season, he is fined $20,000 even if he's not the one holding up play.

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VIRTUAL PLAYERS: The PGA Tour experimented with virtual reality at the Genesis Open, and now it's ready for another big test at The Players Championship.

Fans will be able to watch the island-green 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass through live 360 video and virtual reality all four rounds next week. The live VR can be viewed on Samsung Gear VR headsets through the ''PGA TOUR VR Live'' app on the Oculus store.

Fans who don't have headsets can see the 360 video stream on Twitter and Periscope.

There will be three VR camera positions - one on the 17th tee, one on the walkway from the tee to the green, and one mounted in the water next to the island green.

Rich Anderson, the tour's chief media officer, said the tour liked the quality of live VR technology at Riviera for the Genesis Open and said it was worth doing the same at one of the most infamous par 3s in golf.

The tour said The Players Championship will be the first time Twitter distributes live 360 video during a major sporting event.

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SOCIAL SPONSOR EXEMPTION: The ShopRite LPGA Classic is leaning on social media to determine which of four players gets a sponsor exemption.

Research from MVPindex identified four players with strong social media followings - Susan Benavides, the only Bolivian-born player to play an LPGA event; Carly Booth of Scotland, who has two victories on the Ladies European Tour; Sharmila Nicollet of India; and Blair O'Neal, a Golf Channel host who has played 75 times on the developmental Symetra Tour.

Fans can vote by going to www.twitter.com/shopritelpga .

The survey closes on May 8.

The tournament is June 2-4.

''Working with MVPindex to grow our social media footprint has been a valuable experience,'' said Tim Erensen, executive director of the tournament. ''This contest gives our fans a choice to select one of the final participants in our tournament and exposes our event to millions of new fans around the world. Not only is that great for our tournament, it's also great for professional golf.''

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DIVOTS: Lee Westwood took last week off and moved up three spots to No. 50 in the world ranking at just the right time - it made him eligible for The Players Championship next week. ... Chase Koepka is in the Wells Fargo Championship by virtue of tying for fifth with big brother Brooks Koepka in the Zurich Classic last week. Chase Koepka had not played a PGA Tour event until last week. ... The European Tour has formed an alliance with the Korea PGA. It follows an announcement of a similar alliance with the PGA Tour of Australasia. ... Kevin Tway, had never had a top 10 on the PGA Tour, tied for third in the Texas Open and then teamed with Kelly Kraft to finish third in the Zurich Classic. Tway, the son of former PGA champion Bob Tway, is No. 79 in the FedEx Cup and has $745,261 in earnings.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: No one from the top 60 in the world ranking is playing the Golfsixes on the European Tour this week.

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FINAL WORD: ''I guess it would have felt a little bit different if Jonas had done it for my first win. But yeah, it was cool to hit that last putt, and actually knowing that you're going to win the tournament.'' - Cameron Smith, who made a short birdie putt to win a playoff in the Zurich Classic with teammate Jonas Blixt.

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