Final week to avoid US Open qualifying

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

By DOUG FERGUSON

AP Golf Writer

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) As many as 26 players will be added to the field for the U.S. Open at Erin Hills this week, and there isn't likely to be many surprises unless someone not already eligible wins or finishes second in the AT&T Byron Nelson.

The top 60 in the world ranking published after this week will be exempt from qualifying.

Si Woo Kim earned a three-year exemption with his victory in The Players Championship, although the 21-year-old from South Korea was in the Tour Championship last year and thus already exempt for the U.S. Open, which is June 15-18.

Among players whose PGA Tour victories effectively got them into the U.S. Open are Wesley Bryan (RBC Heritage), Russell Henley (Shell Houston Open) and Brian Harman (Wells Fargo Championship) because winning moved them safely inside the top 60.

The same could be said for Pat Perez, though he has done far more than win the OHL Classic in Mexico last fall. Perez also has had several strong finishes, and his runner-up finish at the Wells Fargo Championship clinched it for him.

Jon Rahm's victory at Torrey Pines in January also got him in, though the 22-year-old from Spain has done so well in other tournaments that it seems like a long time ago. Rahm already is up to No. 12 in the world.

Byeong Hun An is at No. 58 and playing the AT&T Byron Nelson, so his objective is to not fall out of the top 60. Lee Westwood (55), Match Play semifinalist Hideto Tanihara (56) and Jeunghun Wang (57) are not playing this week.

Three European Tour players who are within range of the top 60 are not playing this week - Chris Wood, Andy Sullivan and Soren Kjeldsen. The European Tour has the BMW PGA Championship, its flagship event, next week at Wentworth. The tour this week has a new event, The Rocco Forte Open in Sicily, Italy, which has a weak field.

The winner of the BMW PGA Championship also earns a U.S. Open exemption. For everyone else, there is 36-hole sectional qualifying on June 5. There also is another exemption for the top 60 in the world ranking published the week of the U.S. Open.

If there is no movement in the top 60 in the world this week, 26 players would get in. And if someone not already eligible wins at Wentworth next week, that will be a total of 78 exempt players - half of the 156-man field, which is just how the USGA likes it.

HOWELL RECOVERING: Rory McIlroy isn't the only player who had an MRI on Monday to make sure there was no damage to his rib area.

Charles Howell III had tests Monday for what his manager described as "something very similar to Rory with his rib." Howell has not played since the RBC Heritage. He withdrew right before the Wells Fargo Championship and did not go to The Players Championship. He also is taking this week off from the AT&T Byron Nelson.

"He's trying to be back for Memorial," said Thomas Parker at 4Sports and Entertainment. "He feels like he's on the right track."

Howell is No. 68 in the world, and because the top 60 after this week are exempt for the U.S. Open, Howell would have to go through 36-hole qualifying the Monday after the Memorial if his injury allows him.

A DIFFERENCE IN EMOTION: Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay are on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum when it comes to golf, so it was intriguing to see them as partners in the Zurich Classic a few weeks ago.

"I tried to teach him how to slam a club or something," Reed said. "Some emotion."

Apparently, it didn't work.

"I'll never forget 12, ever," Reed said. "I think that will be in the back of my mind for my whole career. The guy hits every fairway he looks at. For him to step up on a tee and duck-hook one so far left, to literally just watch it fly, bend down, pick up his tee, hand the driver to his caddie as if he hit it 320 down the middle ... I'm sitting here like, `What are you doing?' I swear, my driver would have been somewhere else."

Reed has played in the Walker Cup, Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and now the Zurich Classic. As for the partner who comes close to matching his emotion? He thought about it when Jordan Spieth's name came up.

"Jordan gets a little heated every once in a while," Reed said. "I just think he complains to his caddie a lot. He doesn't really get very angry at himself, he kind of complains to Michael (Greller) a lot. ... A lot of guys show emotion, it's just kind of hard to tell who kind of shows it the way I do."

BACK OUT: Terry Mundy was at The Players Championship with Ian Poulter for the 11th consecutive year, this time with a new badge - player manager, not caddie.

Mundy has been coping with three herniated disks in his lower back for the last two years, and it reached a point where even turning to toss trash in a waste bin was enough for pain to shoot up his legs.

"The doctors said if I wanted to keep caddying, they could put two rods in my back," Mundy said.

The alternative was six months of rehabilitation and seeing where he is, though Mundy is likely done being on Poulter's bag. Poulter also changed management companies, leaving IMG for Paul Dunkley, a longtime friend who managed the Englishman when he first turned pro nearly 20 years ago.

James Walton has taken over for Mundy.

DIVOTS: So Yeon Ryu has a streak of 10 straight finishes in the top 10 on the LPGA Tour going into the Kingsmill Championship, where she has another chance to reach No. 1 in the world. ... Si Woo Kim won The Players Championship and the next day withdrew from the AT&T Byron Nelson, wanting to rest his back. ... Kevin Sutherland has posted nine straight top 10s on the PGA Tour Champions. He is still looking for his first 50-and-older circuit victory. ... Sergio Garcia will try to become the fourth back-to-back winner at the AT&T Byron Nelson. The others were Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead. ... The European Tour qualifying is going beyond European borders for the first time. A first stage qualifier will be held in Malaysia on Sept. 5-8 at Saujana Golf & Country Club, which hosted the Maybank Championship this year. ... Laurence Applebaum, formerly the executive vice president of the Women's Tennis Association, has been appointed chief executive of Golf Canada.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Jon Rahm of Spain is No. 3 in the Race to Dubai on the European Tour. He has yet to play a regular European Tour event.

FINAL WORD: "It's simple. When we get to the Masters next year they're going to take it away, so I think I'm going to hold onto it as long as I can for this year." - Sergio Garcia on taking his green jacket with him to tournaments.

Updated May 16, 2017