Points pressure, redemption loom Sunday at RSM

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – In the oppressive August heat, Mackenzie Hughes mulled a suddenly uncertain professional future.

“Do you start drinking now or later?” asked a reporter following the Canadian’s final round at the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

“Probably now. Yeah,” Hughes shrugged. “That would probably be a good idea, actually. I didn’t even think about that, but that’s probably a great idea. Have a little four or five beers, take the edge off, and see what happens.”

Hughes had just bogeyed the 17th hole at TPC Southwind to drop into a tie for 58th and was projected 51st on the playoff points list (down from No. 47), making him the first man out of next year’s signature event promised land.

For perspective, Hughes finished at No. 51, just 28 points behind No. 50, which means next year will be an uphill scramble to keep pace as those inside the top 50 play the signature events for dramatically more money and, more importantly, more FedExCup points.

There is a measure of redemption, however, for Hughes this week at the RSM Classic, the year’s final official event. Thanks to a solid fall and blistering Saturday that ended inches away from a course-record 59, Hughes is poised to remain inside the Next 10, the Tour’s category for Nos. 51-60 on the points list who will earn a spot into two of the year’s first three signature events.

2024 PGA Tour cards and signature-event starts will be finalized this week.

“A win would definitely cure some of those blues. Yeah, even just finishing the year on a strong note, it’s nice for momentum going into next year. I feel as though I’ve gotten myself into a couple of those signature events and if I continue to play like I am, I like my chances to play my way into more of them. It’s not fun being on the outside looking in right now,” said Hughes, who is two shots behind third-round leader Ludvig Åberg. “Obviously, I’m in a much better place than I was in Memphis earlier this year.”

There will be plenty of others vying for similar redemption on Sunday at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort as the season-long race boils down to an 18-hole sprint.

  • Through three rounds Åberg is the only player projected to move into the top 60 and secure himself valuable marquee starts next year. The Swede is projected to move from 96th on the fall points list to 54th thanks to rounds of 67-64-61. No. 59 J.J. Spaun is tied for 30th and projected to fall outside the top 60.

Alex Noren is just outside that threshold following a third-round 64 that has him projected to move to No. 61 from 64th. “You can see it on the leaderboards on every hole,” Noren admitted. “My thought is it’s more just to improve my game.”

  • Even more pressing for most players is the top 125, which would secure full status in 2024. Ryan Moore is currently tied for eighth and is projected to move from No. 128 to 120th. Troy Merritt, who missed the cut, would drop from 123rd to No. 126.

“It’s impossible for it not to be [on his mind],” Moore said of the top-125 bubble. “I don’t like being outside of that number, but at the same time, first and foremost I’m trying to go win a golf tournament and I got myself into a position where that’s attainable again, right? That’s my focus.”

  • And finally, there is the top 150, which comes with conditional status next year. Two players (Vince Whaley and Kevin Tway) are projected inside the top 150 while Webb Simpson and Paul Haley II are set to drop out.

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