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‘It’s crunch time.’ Could struggling stars join the field in hopes of securing a spot in the playoffs?

JT Poston did not originally plan on playing in the 3M Open this year. It was understandable. Minnesota’s PGA Tour stop is not located on a favorable spot on the schedule — one week after The Open Championship across the pond.

Even with a tournament-provided charter to the Twin Cities from Royal Liverpool in England, it’s a tough ask for many of the game’s top players to ignore the jet lag and fatigue and tee it up in Blaine the very next week after a major championship.

But Poston’s plans have changed in recent weeks. The 30-year-old announced ahead of this week’s John Deere Classic, where he’s the defending champion, that he’ll indeed play in Minnesota again this summer.

“Love the golf course,” Poston said of TPC Twin Cities at a news conference Wednesday. “I was planning on having a week off before (the Wyndham Championship) and playoffs, but right now I have to make sure I’m in the playoffs.”

That’s the one advantage of the 3M Open’s late date on the PGA Tour season schedule. There are only two PGA Tour events — the 3M Open and the Wyndham Championship — between The Open and the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs, which determine the Tour’s season-long champion.

In the past, making the playoffs wasn’t a difficult feat for the game’s best players; the top 125 players in the points standings made the cut. That number has shrunk to just 70 players who will play in the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

And from there, the field keeps getting smaller. The top 50 will advance to the BMW Championship, then the top 30 will compete in the final event, the Tour Championship.

The top 70 players who reach the playoffs will be “fully exempt” for the 2023-24 PGA Tour season. The top 50 who reach the BMW Championship will automatically enter each of next year’s “elevated events,” the big-money purse events that were introduced this year and will feature limited fields and no cuts.

If you don’t make it into the top 50 this season, you’ll have to play really well next season to qualify for those top-tier, top-payout events. So someone like Poston, who entered this week’s John Deere Classic in 85th place, has every reason to collect as many points as possible between now and the end of the season.

“Usually being 85th and the playoffs being 125, you obviously want to make a nice push, but there wouldn’t be as much stress on whether or not I was going to make the playoffs,” Poston said. “So it is a little different kind of end-of-the-year push. … It’s just kind of that time. It’s crunch time. Trying to make a final push and not just get into the top 70, but get into the top 50 and give myself a chance to get back to Atlanta (for the Tour Championship).”

Poston isn’t necessarily a “star” on the PGA Tour, but he’s had success in recent years and built up a fan base. Other bigger names like Gary Woodland and Billy Horschel, who have done so well as to compete on President’s Cup teams, were announced as 3M Open commits by the tournament this week.

Woodland is currently 96th in points, while Horschel is 114th. Adam Scott has yet to commit to the 3M Open, but he’s in a rather precarious position, currently sitting 78th in the standings.

Certainly any of these players could log a win or a top-five performance between now and the 3M Open and their situations would change dramatically to where they wouldn’t need to experience success in Blaine.

But things could get rather interesting for a few true standouts as the 3M Open commitment deadline approaches.

Justin Thomas is currently 68th in the FedEx Cup standings. Even without a top-50 finish, he’ll probably be into every elevated event next season based on his current Official World Golf Ranking (20th).

But missing the playoffs altogether isn’t something Thomas, who is widely viewed as one of the world’s top talents, would be interested in doing. Should he struggle overseas in the coming weeks, he may feel as though he has to play in Minnesota. Ditto for Cameron Young, who is ranked No. 19 in the world at the moment and is the top player competing in the John Deere Classic this week. He entered the week ranked 49th in the FedEx Cup standings and surely would like a little more breathing room inside that top 50.

Hideki Matsuyama, who has played in the 3M Open in the past, is currently 52nd, and doesn’t have a World Ranking (33rd) that would seem to guarantee him much of anything in terms of elevated event entrance next season should he not crack the top 50

So while in many ways the timing of Minnesota’s PGA Tour stop is a hindrance when trying to attract a top-tier field, perhaps this time around, it could provide a little help.

Stay tuned.

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