Key stretch for Mills' Tour hopes

IAN HUTCHINSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

Jon Mills had no choice but to chill this past weekend after the Nationwide Tour postponed the Mexico Open due to the recent outbreak of swine flu in that country.

That event will now be played in early September and Mills said he welcomed a breather that fell just before an important stretch of a season that was rather shaky at the beginning, with four missed cuts in his first six tournaments.

Mills is 40th on the money list, about $16,000 US short of the top 25, who get their PGA Tour cards next year. He will play five tournaments in a row, beginning this week in Raleigh, N.C., and two or three top-10s or his third Nationwide Tour win would quickly put him into the running for his third shot at the big show.

"It would have been nice to keep playing, but at the same time, it's always nice to come home and rest and work on some things," Mills said. "This is definitely a big five weeks for me because it's the first long stretch of the year for me. My focus is definitely to do something in this stretch."

Mills goes into a busy June with improved confidence after a tie for sixth at the South Georgia Classic two weeks ago. Last week, he was just one shot off the lead going into the third round of the BMW Charity Pro-Am, but on moving day, he got stuck and shot a 73.

"I got off to a great start last week even though it didn't pan out," said Mills, who shot 65-66 in the first two rounds, but eventually tied for 50th. "On Saturday, I think I was two-under after nine and just didn't play well on the back nine. I kind of did the same thing on Sunday."

Despite his disappointing conclusion just over a week ago, Mills saw enough to offer encouragement going into this important part of the season and a big part of that is his comfort on the greens after changing his putting style following a conversation with his coach Dave Woods.

"I hadn't really putted very well consistently. We really focused on my putting and what I needed to do," said Mills, who adopted a cross-handed style.

"When I set up normally, when I'm not cross-handed, my arms tend to align open. Having the left hand low, it straightens my left arm. On top of that, it was easier to keep that left arm steady through the stroke," he said.

"Every week since then, I've putted really well. The week I played in Valdosta (Ga.), I didn't hit the ball very good at all and I putted probably one of my best putting rounds," said Mills, whose two previous seasons on the PGA Tour came as a result of him placing in the top 25 on the Nationwide.

Mills will have a little extra play on top of the Nationwide schedule during the next five weeks, but it won't be as much as it could have been. With all eyes on Rocco Mediate and a limping Tiger Woods at last year's U.S. Open, Mills quietly finished with an impressive tie for 36th.

That finish earned him a direct ticket to sectional qualifying this year, an event he will take part in June 8 in Columbus, Ohio.

As for the Open that is being played north of the border at Glen Abbey in July, Mills says he has yet to receive an official exemption into the RBC Canadian Open, which he likely will get, but even if he does, there is a possibility he won't be there.

MAY MISS OPEN

Mills missed the 2007 edition of the Canadian Open at Angus Glen as he made a successful run at the top 25 on the Nationwide Tour. Depending on what happens in the next five weeks, he may have to make a similar decision, whether he likes it or not.

"If I get that option, it depends on how I do up until then. That's what I based my decision on the last time I was offered the exemption," he said.

"I've just got to weigh the possibilities. Ideally, I'd like to have an event or two where I play really well on the Nationwide prior to (the Canadian Open) and it gets me in a position where I'm looking good in the top 25," Mills added.

"I know, last time, I had a couple of good finishes prior to it and I was hovering right around that number, but I hadn't won and it wasn't sealed by that time," he said.

"It's a tough decision, especially when you have sponsors who want you to play, you've got family and friends who want you to play in it, but I've always felt do you want to see me play one event of the year, or do you want me to play them all next year?"

The next five weeks could make it the best of both worlds.


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