Vijay Singh hasn’t missed a major golf championship in 17 years. Sergio Garcia has played in every one since 1999, the same year he danced and leapt his way up the fairways in pursuit of Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship. But as of right now, neither is in the field for next month’s U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club — and they’re running out of avenues to qualify.
Ryo Ishikawa, the teenage star from Japan who is donating all his earnings this year to victims of the March earthquake and tsunami that devastated his homeland, was among seven players to gain a spot in the June 16-19 U.S. Open over the weekend. For players not already exempt, Monday was a cut-off point for either being in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking — Ishikawa is now 49th — or in the top 10 of the PGA Tour money list.
Qualifying for the U.S. Open can seem to be a complicated process. There are myriad routes in — winning recent major championships, finishing high on the previous year’s money lists from the PGA Tour or the European PGA Tour, winning two or more tournaments over the past year, etc. — so top players usually enter the year knowing they’re safely in the field.
That is not the case, though, for Garcia and Singh, who have been among the world’s best players for the last decade but now need a last-gasp push to make it to Congressional.
A dozen years ago, Garcia was the next can’t-miss-kid in golf, the presumed rival to Woods, whom he challenged at the 1999 PGA Championship. In 2008, he rose to No. 2 in the world. But Garcia hasn’t won a tournament since 2008, is still without a major championship and has plummeted to 73rd in the world rankings.
Monday on his Twitter account, Garcia announced that he withdrew from a qualifier for the British Open — he is not exempt for that tournament, either — in Plano, Tex., because of an infected fingernail. “Couldn’t hold the club comfortably,” Garcia wrote. Garcia, 31, has played in 47 consecutive majors; the last one he missed was the 1999 U.S. Open.
Singh, 48, is a former world No. 1 and three-time major champion who hasn’t missed a major since the 1994 U.S. Open — a string of 67 straight, the longest active streak. Last year, the United States Golf Association, which stages the Open, granted Singh — who had dealt with a series of injuries — a special exemption into the field at Pebble Beach. Singh is now healthy — he has played 14 tournaments this year — but the last of his 34 PGA Tour wins came in 2008, and he has fallen to 61st in the world rankings.
Though both Singh and Garcia are entered in June 6 sectional qualifying tournaments — 36-hole events staged at 11 sites nationwide — Garcia has said he is unlikely to use that route. In a change from past practice, the USGA is also granting spots in the field to anyone who is in the top 50 of the world rankings on June 13 — allowing for a player to get hot late and play his way in.
Ishikawa, 19, lost in a playoff Sunday at the Totoumi Hamamatsu Open on the Japanese tour, but his second-place finish moved him up four spots in the world rankings from 53rd. Ishikawa — who in 2007 became the youngest tournament winner, at 15, on the Japan Golf Tour — hadn’t yet qualified for the 156-player U.S. Open field through any other route.
Also in by virtue of landing in the top 50: Sweden’s Peter Hanson, who is 50th despite missing four of his last five cuts, and Italian teenager Matteo Manassero, who won last month in Malaysia and is ranked 36th.
David Toms, who lost in a playoff at the Players Championship last week but bounced back to win the Crowne Plaza Invitational on Sunday, qualified by being in the top 10 of the current PGA Tour money list and by rising to 28th in the rankings. Toms is fourth on the money list; both Aaron Baddeley of Australia and Rory Sabbatini of South Africa — currently ninth and 10th — gained exemptions through the money list as well. Denmark’s Anders Hansen earned a spot by being among the top five on the European tour’s money list.