SILVAS, Ill. â€“ Francesco Molinari is keen to represent Italy in the next Olympics, Tokyo 2020, and he can take the first steps at this weekâ€™s John Deere Classic. Hard to believe, but this week marks the start of the two-year Menâ€™s Qualification period. Not that heâ€™s thinking about it. â€œIf I focus on Ryder Cup, Olympics, majors and stuff like that, itâ€™s harder to do the day-to-day things properly,â€� said Molinari, whose world ranking has soared after recent victories at the Quicken Loans National (by eight shots) and the European Tourâ€™s BMW Championship. The start of the Menâ€™s Qualification period, which was news to every player asked about it Tuesday, underlines one of the big truths of the PGA TOUR, which is that in any given week players are competing with different agendas. They want to get to Tokyo, eventually, but also the majors, the World Golf Championships, and, most crucially with just six weeks (and eight events) remaining, the four-tournament FedExCup Playoffs. â€œWe didnâ€™t have all this stuff,â€� said Bob Tway, 59, an eight-time PGA TOUR winner who is at TPC Deere Run this week with his TOUR pro son, Kevin. â€œWe didnâ€™t have The Playoffs. And how you got into the majors was totally different. Normally if you won, you got into everything; thatâ€™s not always the case now. Now itâ€™s all about getting into the top 30.â€� Hereâ€™s what theyâ€™re playing for at the Deere: Their livelihoods Knowing your FedExCup number is like scoreboard-watching. You donâ€™t want to obsess about it, but you want to know where you stand, just the same. Cracking the top 30 qualifies players for the season-ending TOUR Championship, but to make it to the end, youâ€™ve got to reach the start. The top 125 six weeks from now will reach the Playoffs opener, THE NORTHERN TRUST at Ridgewood (N.J.) Country Club, Aug. 23-26, and maintain full TOUR status for 2018-â€™19. â€œIâ€™m 128 now,â€� said Canadaâ€™s Nick Taylor, who is coming off a T56 finish at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier last week. â€œIf you go into each week with the goal to win, it takes care of itself, but Iâ€™m on the bubble for keeping my card, so itâ€™s kind of on my mind.â€� Heâ€™s not alone. â€œIâ€™m 127,â€� said Troy Merritt, who not only knew his number, he knew which players jumped ahead of him in the standings (Sam Saunders, Harold Varner III, Joel Dahmen and Talor Gooch) while he attended his brotherâ€™s wedding in Minneapolis in lieu of playing the Greenbrier. â€œSummers are a grind,â€� Merritt added. â€œI spent two days at home in June. Another 80 FedExCup points would put me at 380, and I think I would be safe to take next week off.â€� Ryan Palmer said his priorities, and most everyone elseâ€™s priorities, are clear-cut. â€œItâ€™s about getting in the Playoffs, because if you donâ€™t make the Playoffs, you donâ€™t have a card next year,â€� he said. TOUR Championship Molinari knew he was a lock for the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, Aug. 2-5, after winning the BMW, which put his world ranking well inside the top 50. (Heâ€™s 15th.) But on this side of the Atlantic? That was a concern, as the 35-year-old Italian was languishing at 123 in FedExCup. Then he won the Quicken Loans, rocketing up the standings. Now up to 43rd, heâ€™s in the best shape of his career to finally make the season-ending TOUR Championship. â€œI was right on the bubble so the main thing was to get some FedEx points and make sure I was in The Playoffs,â€� said Molinari, who played in the 2010 and 2012 Ryder Cups. â€œHopefully, if I keep playing like this, Iâ€™ll play my way to East Lake. Iâ€™ve never been there. Iâ€™ve watched it on TV lots of times and I would love to play there. People have told me it should suit my game. â€œItâ€™s one of those things to kind of tick off the list if you get there,â€� he added. â€œAt least once in my career Iâ€™d like to qualify for it, and hopefully itâ€™s this year.â€� The last WGC in Akron Zach Johnson, the 2012 Deere winner, is a native Iowan with the dual role of player and host this week. Heâ€™s got a lot on his plate. Big picture, heâ€™s trying to get to East Lake while also getting into position to make his sixth U.S. Ryder Cup team. But the 12-time TOUR winner has become aware of something else: At 51st in the world, heâ€™s one ranking spot away from cracking the field for the final WGC-Bridgestone at Firestone South. (It moves to Memphis next year.) â€œI havenâ€™t missed one of those since Iâ€™ve been on TOUR,â€� said Johnson. â€œI really like that golf course.â€� (He should; he finished second to Hideki Matsuyama at Firestone South last year.) Tiger Woods, the eight-time WGC-Bridgestone champion, is 69th in the world and also has made no secret of his desire to crack the top 50 and get back to Akron. When it comes to golfâ€™s magic numbers, thereâ€™s 59 (on the scorecard), thereâ€™s 125, 100, 70 and 30 (FedExCup Playoffs), and then thereâ€™s 50 (Official World Golf Ranking). â€œAfter you make the Playoffs, the second priority is getting in the top 50 in the world,â€� said Palmer, who is 131st. â€œI was in there for three or four years, and Iâ€™d like to get back there.â€� The majors Molinariâ€™s win at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm not only has him in great shape to make a run at East Lake, it gave him a berth in the 2019 Masters. (He was T20 at Augusta this year.) Kelly Kraft said there was no mistaking what heâ€™d done with his second-place finish at The Greenbrier. Heâ€™d booked a trip to The Open, his first, at Carnoustie. His wife, Tia, will bring the passports to the John Deere, and theyâ€™ll head across the pond on the tournamentâ€™s charter. â€œThey had the trophy out there on the first tee, the Claret Jug,â€� Kraft said of the Greenbrier. Thereâ€™s one spot left at the Deere for the highest top-five finisher (and ties) not already qualified. Last year it went to winner Bryson DeChambeau, who was typical of last-minute entries. Asked if he was packed for The Open, he said, â€œI hope so. My agent is helping me out with that. I don’t know.â€� After The Open, itâ€™s on to the PGA Championship, which has its own qualification criteria. Welcome to late-season life on TOUR. Itâ€™s a whirlwind.
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