Mills' progress slow

IAN HUTCHINSON -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:38 AM ET

Sitting 123rd on the money list as he was last week, it's unlikely Jon Mills' name will be whispered into Tiger Woods' ear as the new Canadian superstar on the PGA Tour when the latter returns from his recent knee surgery.

But outside the glare reserved for the game's top players, Mills does have a few positives to contemplate, one being that he might avoid that nasty little competition at the end of the year called qualifying school.

"I'm happy," said Mills, 30, who appeared to be getting into contention with an outstanding 68 on Friday at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship only to tumble down the leaderboard with a 77 on Saturday before finishing up with a 72 yesterday.

"I feel like I got off to a decent start, but at the same time, I got myself into some positions where I could have had some better finishes. I'm building from those events I played well at and using that confidence, and, hopefully, I'll get in the position again and will be able to finish it up better."

The recent Puerto Rico Open is a perfect example.

"In the Puerto Rico event, I was playing well and made a double on 17 and had a short par-5 (the 18th hole) and failed to birdie that," he said.

Mills could obsess about the negative, or he can draw what he can from the experience and focus on the fact that he tied for 13th in Puerto Rico, the best finish in his short PGA Tour career.

That lofty finish earned him a cool $70,000 US and he followed it up with a tie for 20th at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans to earn another $74,813. His $207,388 as of last week is more than three times what he earned in 2006, his first year on the tour.

Late spring presents new challenges for Mills, who has missed five cuts in 12 starts so far this year. While there are encouraging signs, he isn't a priority for getting into tournaments as the season heats up, so Mills will be on the sidelines some weeks.

Lack of action on the tour could mean backing up on the money list, something he would rather avoid with the possibility of Q-school always in the back of his mind.

On some off-weeks, Mills will play the Nationwide Tour, where he finished fourth on the 2007 money list to regain his PGA Tour card.

Earlier this season, Mills expressed an interest in playing the new Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic June 26-29 near Collingwood, but he now figures he may have a good chance of getting into the Buick Open, to be played at the same time in Michigan.

If Mills is to get into the Buick, it would work nicely in his quest to get into the British Open, which holds North American qualifying in Michigan right afterwards.

He is also scheduled to take part in U.S. Open qualifying after making it through to Oakmont last year, where he missed the cut in an event highlighted by inflated scores. Still, he calls the 2007 U.S. Open a "building block" in his career, and more majors are on his mind.

"At the start of the year, my goal was to play at least two of them," he said, adding that he has come to know Torrey Pines, the site of this year's U.S. Open, through his participation at the Buick Invitational.

"I played two years ago. I played this year, so I know the golf course," he said. "I played it as a junior. I guess of all the PGA golf courses, apart from the Canadian Open, I think I'm more experienced on that golf course than any other. It's not much experience, but it's more experience than (I have) on most of the other golf courses."

It's actually comical listening to Mills discuss the future as he seeks the dates of tournaments from his wife Megan, apparently the schedule keeper. "I just show up and play," he said.

That's a good thing because Mills doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself. While qualifying for a major or two and showing well would go a long way in his quest to stay on tour, it's a long way to the end of the season and there are many obstacles along the way.

Unless he goes on a tear, playing in the Fall Series, once called the Quest for the Card, is a sure thing. But that's something Mills doesn't mind after playing into November on the Nationwide Tour.

To prepare, he is working regularly on his fitness with Craig Davies of Chiro Training International.

Davies is often on the road with Mills, who admits he needs motivation in the fitness department. He says he is already seeing results.

His results on tour are starting to pay dividends, too, but just like the beginning of a fitness program, the ultimate reward of keeping his card takes time.


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