Simpson off to a good start toward money title

By DOUG FERGUSON | October 14, 2011 | 4:10 AM EDT

Zach Miller hits off the third tee during the first round of the McGladrey Classic golf tournament at the Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons Island, Ga., Thursday Oct. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Webb Simpson can't stop thinking about his position on the money list.

Zack Miller would rather forget about his.

From top to bottom, the McGladrey Classic is about money for most of the players gathered at Sea Island for the second-to-last tournament on the PGA Tour schedule. Simpson and Miller each opened with a 7-under 63 on Thursday, yet their positions could not be much different.

Simpson, a winner in two of his last five tournaments, is No. 2 on the money list. His primary reason for playing this Fall Series event is to make up the $68,791 difference between him and Luke Donald.

The money title still carries prestige, not to mention a five-year exemption. Simpson played as though it was a big deal on a balmy, breezy start along coastal waters. He made eight birdies to match his lowest score of the year.

"There's no way I can play this golf tournament without thinking about the money title," Simpson said. "I'm thinking about it every day. But I'm not over every shot thinking, 'This is for the money title.' It's more that I'm just trying my best to get focused on winning the golf tournament."

At this rate, he stands a reasonable chance at both.

Miller is a PGA Tour rookie who started his season decently with a top 10 at Pebble Beach. But he has fallen on tough times of late, missing his last six cuts dating to the Viking Classic in July. He was not sure what to make of Thursday's round, when he hit everything at the flag during a four-hole stretch that he played in 5 under.

He is at No. 146 on the money list, and his priority at the moment is to stay in the top 150. That at least would spare him from having to go to the second stage of Q-school.

"Yeah, the money list thing," he said. "I've been trying to avoid looking at it. When you miss as many cuts as I have, you're only going one direction. I peek at it every few tournaments ... but the reality is I'm sort of battling to stay in the top 150."

He has plenty of company — on the money list and the leaderboard.

The three guys one shot behind at 64 were all outside the top 125 position required to keep a full card — Scott McCarron (163), Billy Horschel (139) and Martin Piller (202).

The large group at 65 included more of the same, players like Richard S. Johnson, Matt Jones and even two-time major champion Angel Cabrera, all trying to make up ground. Jones is right at No. 125 this week.

Simpson was in that spot a year ago, having to play the Fall Series to try to get his card. A year later, he is a two-time winner trying to not only win the money list, but perhaps be voted PGA Tour player of the year.

No player has more than two wins and, while Donald has only one win in the United States, he has been No. 1 in the world since May. For Donald and Simpson, the money title could go a long way in collecting votes. Donald is not playing this week, and has until 5 p.m. Friday to decide whether to enter the season-ending event at Disney.

Simpson needs to finish at least in 15th place alone to surpass Donald, although he looked as if he had bigger plans the way he worked his way around the Seaside course, even as the breeze picked up late in the morning.

Deliberate by nature, Simpson at times switched clubs two or three times, although it paid off on the fourth hole when he went back to a 7-iron and dropped his shot some 4 feet from the cup for a birdie. The only glitch was a poor approach from the middle of the 18th fairway in the middle of his round for a bogey.

Bud Cauley, the 21-year-old who left Alabama after his junior season to turn pro this summer, opened with a 68. Cauley is poised to become only the sixth player to go from college to getting his tour card without going through Q-school. He is the equivalent of No. 114 on the money list, and a solid start only helped that cause.

Simpson was as deliberate over his schedule as he is over a golf shot. He said he had some 15 options to consider because of his plans to go overseas for the first time, which includes the Presidents Cup in Australia. He has settled on the Singapore Open a week before the Nov. 17-20 matches at Royal Melbourne.

There was some consideration for Asia, although once he adjusted his international travel to make room for the McGladrey Classic, it was an easy decision. Even so, he had to switch from vacation mode to find the game that brought him wins in Greensboro and Boston, and it didn't take long once he left the practice range.

"I did have a little question in my mind, 'Would I be able to turn the brain back on and get in the competitive mode again?'" Simpson said.

He answered with a 63, matching the score he posted in the third and final round at Plainfield in The Barclays.

It wasn't an easy day for everyone.

Rickie Fowler, coming off his first professional win last week in Korea, opened with a 73 and is in danger of missing the cut. Vijay Singh had a 75.