Rutledge set for final exams

IAN HUTCHINSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:13 AM ET

The dream of a lifetime came true for Victoria's Jim Rutledge two years ago when he became the second-oldest rookie to play on the PGA Tour at the age of 47 after years of trying to get there.

However, Rutledge missed the cut in 18 of the 23 events he played in 2007 to finish 226th on the money list and earn a ticket back to the Nationwide Tour, while bewildering those who truly felt his maturity would complement his natural talents when he made the big show after years of trying.

"It was just a bit of shell-shock," recalled Rutledge, who will make another run at a PGA Tour card at this week's final stage of qualifying school, which gets underway on Wednesday at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.

"I've played a few Canadian Opens, but it's the same old deal -- it doesn't matter how old you are, you're going into a new arena and you don't know where to go, you don't know the golf courses," he said.

So, Rutledge faded back to the Nationwide Tour, where he had won the 2006 New Zealand PGA Championship to move on and finish 14th on that circuit's money list to earn his PGA Tour card.

Seemingly, he would wait out the Champions Tour, which he intends to play next year when he turns 50, especially after making the cut in just eight of 19 Nationwide Tour events in 2008 and going through some discomfort in his hip and lower back area in the second half of the season.

"My back has been bothering me quite a bit," he said. "I just finally took about four weeks off and just rested. I just wasn't getting anything out of my game. Now, I'm starting to putt a little bit better. I've been working with (coach) Steve Chapman in Toronto.

"Earlier in the year, I may have been hitting a lot of greens, but I wasn't hitting them very close. Now, I'm starting to hit them a little bit closer and make more makeable putts from 15 feet, instead of 30 feet."

That could explain why Rutledge finished first in the second stage of Q-School at Oak Valley Golf Club in Beaumont, Calif., to advance to the final stage. Three of his four rounds there were in the 60s, including a seven-under 65 the final day.

That's enough to adjust the attitude of a guy who admits he was hesitant about joining the tough test at Q-School, which reaches its pinnacle with six gruelling rounds.

"It's like the old movie, Groundhog Day," Rutledge said. "You're not even sure what round you're playing. You're not sure if it's the fourth or fifth -- you keep going until somebody tells you to stop. You just keep going like every day's the last day.

"It's the worst tournament in the world, by far, because you're playing for your job. I really wasn't going to go, but then my wife and friends talked me into it, saying: 'Might as well give it another shot.' I only answered the day before the deadline. I was putting it off and putting it off. Finally, I did it."

Rutledge got a pass on the first round of Q-School because of past champion status on the Nationwide Tour and his performance in the second stage already has elevated his status there, even if he doesn't make it all the way this week. Everything from here on is gravy for Rutledge.

"I'd like one more try at it," he said. "We'll see what happens. I'm in the position where I can get it or not, but also, I'd like to keep status somewhere and keep playing until I can try at least for my senior card and, if it's not the tour, then it will be the Nationwide."

NO WORD YET

Scott Simmons, executive director of the Royal Canadian Golf Association, says he will have to extend a promise to name the sites of the RBC Canadian Open all the way up to 2014 by the end of this year.

"I did say that because that was my personal goal to get that done. I don't think we're going to get there in terms of being able to announce it," he said. "That being said though, there has been significant work done right through to 2014. We may have some news before the end of the year, but if not, there will certainly be some news in early 2009."

With the next two Opens scheduled for Glen Abbey in '09 and St. George's the following year, I see the Open going to Shaughnessy in Vancouver in 2011, the new Terrebonne layout near Montreal (if it's ready in time) in 2012, followed by Hamilton and Royal Montreal in that order.


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