Archive for Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Players fighting to keep cards

Final stops on PGA Tour vital to players low on money list

October 20, 2004

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— Chris Smith wishes he had brought his family to the Funai Classic at Disney, where they could have spent the week at the Magic Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon or other parks.

He just didn't realize there would be time for him -- or them -- to relax.

"We thought I'd be on the range for eight hours every day, and they didn't want to get in my way," Smith said Tuesday. "The last month has been like a Tour school atmosphere for me. That all changed on Sunday."

Just a few days ago, Smith figured he was headed back to Q-school.

He was outside the top 150 on the money list. He had just made back-to-back bogeys early on the back nine in the final round at the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro. But it all turned so suddenly when Smith made an eagle, followed that with three straight birdies and wound up in third place.

He earned $312,800 for his best finish of the season, enough money to secure his PGA Tour card for next year.

Goodbye, worries.

Hello, Space Mountain.

"I went from one of the guys who wasn't going to enjoy this week to one of the guys coming out here to have some fun," Smith said. "The last five months have been really stressful. And this is a hard place to play when you're under a lot of stress."

Disney and the Chrysler Championship next week in Tampa are the last two tournaments for players to earn enough money to finish in the top 125 and keep their cards for next season. Others are grinding to get into the top 30 to qualify for the Tour Championship, or the top 40 to get an invitation to the Masters.

Because of its location -- you can hear the train whistle from the Magic Kingdom across the street -- Disney best illustrates the difference between those on a working vacation and those trying to keep their jobs.

David Duval, who returned to full-time golf in August, is exempt for two more years because he won the 2001 British Open. After finishing nine holes of practice Tuesday morning, he grabbed a rod from his cart, inspected the reel and started casting into the creek behind the 18th green.

Beyond the creek, Peter Lonard was in his cart heading for the first tee. The Aussie is 114th on the money list and is leaving nothing to chance the next two weeks.

Some players are walking on pins and needles this week.

Others are standing in line at Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Vijay Singh is trying for a 10-10 season -- 10 victories, $10 million in earnings -- and comes to Disney as the No. 1 player in the world.

But most of the focus this week shifts to the bottom, where all but two players from No. 114 through No. 143 on the money list are playing. The exceptions are Notah Begay (No. 125) and Mark O'Meara (No. 131), both of whom are injured.

Brendan Pappas is 136th on the money list. He has two weeks to earn about $100,000 and keep his card.

"Once I'm off the course, I think about it constantly," he said. "Once I get out on the golf course, it's the shot at hand that matters. It's always there in the back of your mind, but how sharp your focus is depends on whether you think about it or not."

That's what they all say.

It takes five hours to play a typical round on the PGA Tour. Guys spend no more than an hour of that time selecting a club, taking aim and hitting the shot. They can't help but think about their position on the money list.

"I was playing behind Richard Johnson and Ben Crane on Sunday. I had a lot of time to think about it," Smith said, referring to two slow players. "Everybody from 110 to 150 is thinking about it."

Smith now has $692,785, and it looks like anything around $600,000 should be enough to finish in the top 125.

But after last week, even Smith still has doubts.

Mark Calcavecchia was 125th on the money list, tied for 35th at Greensboro, earned $20,825 and dropped four spots to No. 129. That's because Brent Geiberger won, Michael Allen finished second, and Smith came in third, all of them moving from nowhere to job security.

A slew of players want what Smith earned at Greensboro -- an opportunity to end the suspense so they can relax.

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