November 7, 2012
PGA Tour's season-ending tourney still has intrigue
By TIM McKAY, QMI Agency
Golf fans were spoiled last season when the PGA Tour's final event of the season featured a battle of pride by the No. 1 player in the world.
Luke Donald was wooed back to play in the 2011 Children's Miracle Network Classic at Disney World by his desire to capture both the PGA Tour and European Tour money titles and needing to beat Webb Simpson in the closing event to do so.
This year, there's no such luck for viewers, with world No. 1 Rory McIlroy home and cooled for the money title on this side of the pond. But that doesn't mean the final Fall Series event won't be without intrigue -- you just have to go to the other end of the list to find it.
It's not quite the enviable position in which Donald found himself when he won last year's event, but it means just as much -- more, actually -- to the guys hovering around that all-important 125th spot on the money list.
It all comes down to one tournament for these guys, whether it's maintaining their full status by finishing in the top 125, or conditional status by staying or climbing into the top 150. And there's the dream finish that Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey experienced two weeks ago: Win and be guaranteed a spot on tour for two years.
But it all comes down to this week and there are plenty of guys sweating over it, even though most never would admit it openly. These guys aren't nobodys, either. The spots from 120-125 are held by James Driscoll, Boo Weekley, Jeff Maggert, Kevin Chappell, Rod Pampling and Billy Mayfair.
On the outside looking in are 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman (126), 2011 winner Gary Woodland (131), former Canadian Open champ Chez Reavie (132) and former rising star Camillo Villegas (150).
From the Canadian angle, it's a bit of a long shot for Stephen Ames (186) to move up enough and Mike Weir, who hasn't made a cut all season, would need a miracle of Disney movie proportions -- a victory -- to get into the top 125.
Sitting at No. 127 on the money list is 41-year-old PGA Tour rookie Gary Christian, an Englishman who made 18 of 27 cuts this season and managed one top-10 finish. You would think he'd be desperate to keep his full playing privileges and while he probably is, he came across as a cool customer in his news conference on Wednesday, broadcast on PGATour.com.
"I've really got nothing to lose, and you know, if it all goes wrong, I assure you my wife still loves me and the kids still love me," Christian said. "You can make it a matter of life and death. And if it all goes wrong, it's probably going to affect you more than if you don't treat it as a matter of life and death."
Speaking of a matter of life and death, that's exactly how two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton (163rd on the money list) puts keeping his card in perspective. Compton spoke about it just after receiving the United States Sports Academy's Mildred (Babe) Zaharias Courage Award.
"Sitting here in front of (the media) with one tournament left would probably be less stressful than sitting in a hospital room and have them telling me they have to get ready for me to have surgery," Compton said. "So it's never over until it's over. And I preach that off the golf course, so I should definitely preach that on the golf course. If I do well this week, it'll be an extraordinary year."
Let's face it, these guys are playing golf for a living, and while they want to stay at the top level, Compton knows it's not the end of the world should he not succeed.
"I feel strangely calm this week, just maybe because I feel confident to know that this is a business that I've been running for many, many years, and I'm confident to know that wherever I play, I'll have opportunities to win and get back to the (PGA) Tour."
Compton used Gainey as an example of what can happen on any given Sunday.
"Tommy Two Gloves (and I) were chatting two weeks ago on Saturday, saying, 'Hey, why is our year kind of not going so great,' then he shoots 60 and all of a sudden turns a year like I've had into an extraordinary year with a win."
Gainey, who rocketed from 106th to 56th on the money list by virtue of that win, knows what it's like to come into the year's final event having to make something happen. In 2008, he came in at 202nd on the money list and vaulted into the top 150, something he said that was huge for his career.
"It's very important, because you're assured of about 12 to 15 tournaments (on the PGA Tour when you're inside the top 150), especially before this change is about to happen next year," he said. "It goes to show that if you're outside -- because I was like 202nd coming into this tournament back in 2008 and I shot 64 the last day and that moved me to like 14 -- you never count yourself out because you've still got a chance. As long as you're in the tournament, you've got a chance."
Tommy guns for Masters
With all due respect to 14-year-old amateur Guan Tianlang, Tommy Gainey thinks he ought to be in the 2013 Masters as well.
Tianlang, a Grade 8 student, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur last week and with his automatic invitation will become the youngest player to tee it up at Augusta National in Masters history.
That's great, says Gainey, but he's not in despite winning a PGA Tour tournament. The McGladrey Classic isn't weighted the same and its winner doesn't receive an invite to Augusta.
"I feel like if you can win a PGA tournament, you should be in Augusta," Gainey said Wednesday, trying not to take anything away from the kid.
"Well, I mean you have to congratulate him because he beat a lot of great players, and he deserves the opportunity, but I feel like I deserve the opportunity as well.
"And him being 14, he's young enough, he has got plenty of time. But I'm 37. So there's a lot of difference in age there and opportunity as well.
"Although I'm disappointed that I didn't get in Augusta ... I'll just have to win another tournament and get in that way."
ON THE TEE
Childrens Miracle Network Classic
Walt Disney World Resort, Magnolia Course (7,516 yards, par 72) and Palm Course (7,010 yards, par 72), Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
* Canucks Mike Weir and Stephen Ames give the PGA Tour one last try for the season, while fully exempt and conditional status for 2013 is on the line for those hovering around the top 150 on the money list.
Lorena Ochoa Invitational
Guadalajara Country Club (6,644 yards, par 72), Guadalajara, Mexico.
* After a victory last week, Stacy Lewis is looking for a fifth win to further cement a player of the year title.
Sentosa Golf Club, Serapong Course (7,372 yards, par 71)
* World No. 1 Rory McIlroy is playing in an attempt to be the second consecutive player to win both the PGA Tour and European money titles after Luke Donald did it last season. He leads Peter Hanson by just under $1 million.