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Garnett shows why winning means just as much to the little guys

Brice Garnett Brice Garnett - Steve Dykes/Getty Images

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Until Sunday, about the only thing Scottie Scheffler and Brice Garnett had in common was PGA Tour status and serving together on the Player Advisory Council last year.

They won tournaments held 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) apart — separated by margins even greater — and it raised the question of which was more valuable.

Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world, beat a 69-man field of the best and hottest PGA Tour players at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, picked up $4 million and got a much-needed win. It was his first official title in nearly a year and ended tiresome questions about his putting.

Garnett was No. 535 in the world when he faced 132 players — only seven of them from the top 100, none higher than No. 69 — in the Puerto Rico Open. He struggled to hold back tears after he made a 15-foot birdie putt on the fourth playoff hole to win.

The entire purse for Puerto Rico was $4 million. Garnett won $720,000, slightly less than the payout for the two-tie for sixth at Bay Hill.

Who was happier?

“That would be a cool place to win — Bay Hill, Arnie's tournament, $4 million,” Garnett said. “I wasn't playing for the $720,000. I was playing for status, for exemptions. I can't say this for sure, but it probably meant more to me.”

This was an example of how the bottom half lives on the PGA Tour, and maybe it's an example of why the PGA Tour schedule seems so bloated. The Puerto Rico Open is one of five events on the schedule held opposite tournaments that attract the best players.

The emotions of Garnett, whose only other PGA Tour victory was another opposite-field event in the Dominican Republic five years ago, are understandable.

In this new era of signature events — big money, small fields — players at the very bottom of the pecking order are having a hard time finding room for them.

Priority is given to the top 125 in the FedEx Cup. Then there's conditional status — Nos. 126 to 150. Henrik Norlander is at No. 126 and has played only two PGA Tour events, Mexico and Puerto Rico. The next batch on the priority ranking are past champions.

That's where Garnett falls, and that's why Puerto Rico was his first event. Barring some great play, he was assured of no more than five chances on the PGA Tour. And based on his play last season, he wasn't entitled to more. He finished at No. 163 in 28 tournaments.

“Everyone in my camp would say I've severely underachieved in how I performed in tournaments,” Garnett said. “It was dissatisfying.”

That's also why he told swing coach John Tillery before leaving for Puerto Rico, “This is my Augusta.” It's not the Masters, but it was as important as any tournament for him. The hope was a top-10 finish to get into the Valspar Championship, or pick up enough FedEx Cup points to move up higher in the pecking order.

And then he won, and that meant everything.

He doesn't get in the Masters because it was an opposite-field event. He doesn't even get in the signature events — only the winners of standalone PGA Tour events get that perk. But he now has full PGA Tour status for the rest of this year and the next two after that. That's huge.

Instead of a week at home in Valdosta, Georgia, he's at the TPC Sawgrass for The Players Championship and its $25 million purse. He'll be at the PGA Championship in May. He'll start next year at Kapalua for The Sentry.

“I struggled last night getting calmed down with the adrenaline rushing,” Garnett said. “My thoughts were racing thinking about all that comes with this.”

His victory came during a week of more chatter about small fields. Does the tour need to promote stronger fields with only the best players? Does it need to provide more opportunity?

Rory McIlroy favored the former.

“I’m all for making it more cutthroat, more competitive,” he said. “Probably won’t be very popular for saying this, but I’m all for less players and less tour cards, and the best of the best.”

Where would that leave Garnett? Where would it have left Wyndham Clark, who a year ago was No. 116 in the world and without a PGA Tour victory? Now he's No. 5 in the world, a U.S. Open champion with wins at two signature events.

But then again, maybe McIlroy was onto something. A few days later, he said being cutthroat meant more pathways for fresh faces, and that starts with more room for them.

“I feel like the most competitive professional golf tour in the world, you should have to come out and prove yourself year after year after year,” McIlroy said.

Garnett is 40, but he ticks one box — on the outside trying to get back in.

He earned that in Puerto Rico by winning. That's all anyone should want to do.


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