Greensboro has its own unique place on the PGA Tour, dotted with history and sprinkled with lore. Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open seven times, the first in 1938 and the last in 1960. The GGO was the third win for Byron Nelson in his streak of 11 straight victories in 1945. And for many years, the GGO was the prelude to spring as the event immediately in front of the Masters, a place where in the middle of a party, a golf tournament broke out.
Since 2007, the Gate City has been the gateway to the playoffs. The Wyndham Championship – which starts Thursday at Sedgefield Country Club -- serves as the last chance for players on, around or near the bubble to earn their place in the FedEx Cup playoffs that start next week at the Northern Trust with the top 125 players on the points list.
Tiger Woods even turned up in Greensboro in 2015, trying to elbow his way into the playoffs, thrilling the fans and sponsors by contending for three days before coming up short of a victory – and the top 125.
Although none of this season’s Tour stars made their way to Greensboro, here are some players for whom the Wyndham will get their undivided attention:
Last in the alphabet and first in your heart, the 24-year-old Masters runner-up received a sponsor’s exemption into the Wyndham. One of the factors is that Zalatoris played college golf at Wake Forest, just 28 miles down I-40 in Winston-Salem. However, it is suspected the primary reason he is in the field is his highly unusual predicament.
Zalatoris is not a full member of the PGA Tour. Not yet, anyway. When he earned enough FedEx Cup points this season to equal No. 125 on last season’s list, he became a Special Temporary Member. He has amassed enough points to be No. 26 this season but he’s not eligible for the playoffs. Not yet, anyway. Zalatoris’ only ticket to the Northern Trust is a victory this week in the Wyndham. How many people in Greensboro and surrounds do you think are trying to will Zalatoris to the finish line?
It’s been a lost year for Fowler, who is still one of the most popular players on Tour, despite the fact that he’s No. 130 on the points list and No. 110 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Fowler is no longer one of the Tour’s young stars and it seems that, at age 32, the game is about to pass him by. He’s 131st in strokes gained putting, which is supposed to be his biggest strength and his ballstriking this season has been all over the lot.
Unless he has a good week at the Wyndham, he will miss the playoffs for the first time in his 11 years on Tour. He’s in no danger of losing his playing privileges because of his exemption through 2022-23 from winning the Players Championship in 2015. But should he fail to make it to the Northern Trust, Fowler’s career will no doubt be in need of a hard reset.
On the other hand, the 30-year-old Fleetwood is in danger of losing his PGA Tour privileges and at No. 138, the Englishman is up against it at the Wyndham. If he doesn’t play his way into the top 125, it’s unclear whether Fleetwood would enter the Korn Ferry Finals to attempt to keep his card, rely on sponsors’ exemptions next season or play full-time in Europe next year. He’ll need an excellent week to keep from having to make some tough choices.
Making the playoffs and keeping his card notwithstanding, Fleetwood is in dire need of building some form heading into the Ryder Cup in late September. He’s a lock to make the European team but captain Padraig Harrington would certainly like to see one of his core stars actually start to play well ahead of the matches at Whistling Straits.
The European Ryder Cup captain received a sponsor’s exemption this week and it’s clear he’s not playing the Wyndham to advance his own career. He’s in Greensboro to have a closer look at some players on whom he might use one of his three wildcard picks.
Francesco Molinari and Justin Rose were both on the 2018 European team, with Molinari teaming with Fleetwood for Europe’s most successful pairing in the victory in Paris. However, Molinari has had a dismal year, as has Rose, and for either or both to get serious consideration from Harrington, they would have to do something pretty special this week at the Wyndham or between now and the BMW PGA Championship in mid-September when the picks will be announced.
One player in whom Harrington is keenly interested is Robert McIntyre, who is also in the Wyndham field. The left-handed Scot is in the top 10 on both points lists from which the European automatic qualifiers come and will get a close look from the captain in Greensboro. If McIntyre were to come down the stretch on Sunday with a chance to win the Wyndham, you’d have to wonder which would cause him to feel more heat: the first prize or the eyes of Harrington.