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Why the Fall Series works

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In the last two weeks, two different players holed out for eagle to win a Fall Series event on the PGA Tour. Looking at both players a little closer, you will notice they had one thing in common before their victory.

Neither had their PGA Tour card locked up for next year.

Rocco Mediate's battle with Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open was a long time ago. Prior to his win two weeks ago at the Fry's.com Open, Mediate was preparing to return to Qualifying School to keep his tour privileges for 2011 after entering the Fall Series ranked 188th on the money list.

Mediate needed to hole out four times for eagle -- once each day, including a hole-in-one in the first round -- for the win. The last eagle came on the 17th hole of the final round, propelling him to a one-shot victory.

Jonathan Byrd was in the same boat. Needing a good week to maintain his spot inside the top 125 on the money list -- the cutoff for tour cards -- Byrd found himself in a playoff in Las Vegas with 2009 champion Martin Laird and Cameron Percy, who needed a win to get his tour card for next year.

After three playoff holes, and with darkness settling in, a tour rules official asked the players if they wanted to continue or postpone the playoff until Monday.

Byrd basically told the others whatever they wanted to do was fine with him. Laird and Percy agreed to play one more hole.

So they ran to the par-three 17th, where Byrd got his winning hole-in-one. Byrd didn't see the ball disappear in the hole because it was too dark, but it did go in and neither Percy nor Laird could match him.

Byrd, who entered the week 117th on the money list, vaulted to No. 52 -- but, more importantly, the win gave him his tour card for the next two years.

Looking back over the first four years of the Fall Series, Byrd's story is a familiar one: struggling player gains much-needed win to kickstart floundering career.

In 2007, the first year of the Fall Series, the winners included Steve Flesch, Chad Campbell, Mike Weir and Justin Leonard. They were established players, but the other three winners that year -- George McNeill, Daniel Chopra and Stephen Ames -- were still trying to find their way.

All seven players have kept their tour cards since 2007, with Leonard, Chopra and Ames visiting the winner's circle again since.

However, four of the seven are likely to lose their cards for next year unless they have good finishes at the Disney tournament in two weeks. If those four -- Flesch, McNeill, Weir and Chopra -- do lose their cards, they would be the first of the Fall Series winners to suffer that fate.

But they've showed why the Fall Series is beneficial. The seven winners from 2007 have combined for three victories and 68 top-10 finishes (including four in majors) in the years since.

The class of winners from the 2008 Fall Series is even more accomplished. Four of the seven have gone on to win again. Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson have both won three times since their 2008 victories, while Cameron Beckman and Ryan Palmer have collected one win apiece.

The only winner of the 2008 class -- which also included Will Mackenzie, Marc Turnesa and Davis Love III -- in jeopardy of losing his card for next year is Turnesa. He will at least see some action on tour next year, though, as he is likely to earn a major medical extension after injuring his back earlier this season.

When the Fall Series was created, critics saw it as a chance for the rich to get richer against weaker fields. In reality, it has helped put players' careers back on track.

And in two cases -- Dustin Johnson and 2009 Turning Stone winner Matt Kuchar -- it has helped players earn their first spot on a U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Who knows, maybe two of this year's Fall Series winners -- Byrd and Bill Haas -- will be key members of the 2011 U.S. Presidents Cup team.

You have to think making that team will be one of their goals for next year thanks to their playoff wins this season.

THE NATIONWIDE TOP 25

This week's Nationwide Tour Championship wraps up the tour's season and will determine which 25 players will earn PGA Tour cards for 2011.

There are several former PGA Tour players among the 60 golfers who will tee it up at Daniel Island, including Brandt Jobe, Jon Mills, Jason Gore and Paul Claxton.

How tight is the money list? The difference between Nos. 25 and 60 is just $75,817. That means No. 60 Jeff Brehaut could move into the top 25 with a win, a solo second-place finish or a two-way tie for second.

Chris Nallen is in the tenuous 25th spot, just $1,217 ahead of No. 26 Jobe.

At the end of the tournament, the top 25 will earn playing privileges on the PGA Tour for 2011. But the No. 1 player -- currently Jamie Lovemark -- will also gain an invitation to The Players Championship.

If Lovemark hangs on to his spot, he would be the youngest player ever to top the Nationwide Tour money list. He turns 23 in January.

All is not lost for the players who fail to make the top 25. Those who finish 26th to 40th are exempt into the final stage of PGA Tour Q-school, where the top 25 finishers also gain tour cards. Those finishing between 41 and 70 on the money list go right to the second stage of Q-school.

MINI-TIDBITS

- Byrd's walk off hole-in-one could be the shot of the year on the PGA Tour. His ace and Phil Mickelson's six-iron from the trees at the Masters are likely the two best shots, in whatever order. Mediate's eagle is the darkhorse.

- Matteo Manassero's victory in Spain was truly special. The 17-year-old was the youngest winner in European Tour history and he won by four strokes after firing four rounds of 68 or better. He impressed Tom Watson while playing alongside the Hall of Famer at the 2009 British Open after winning the British Amateur Championship. If you impress Watson with your play, there will surely be good things in your future.

- Joe Durant is on pace to lead the PGA Tour in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation. So why is he only 120th on the money list? He ranks just 166th in putts per round.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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