But that tour card was only on loan.
Willis is nearing the end of the two-year PGA Tour exemption he received by winning the 2001 Tucson Open. And hes got his work cut out for him if he wants to keep that full exempt status.
The 29-year-old Tennessee resident tied for 11th in last weeks Bell Canadian Open. He enters this weeks John Deere Classic 128th on the seasonal money list ' with the top 125 by seasons end getting tour cards for 2004.
Willis has been riding a downward spiral since his unlikely triumph. He has made only 38 cuts in the 86 starts following that victory. Included in that dismal stretch are seven withdrawals after first-round blow-ups and a pair of disqualifcations.
This is his first-ever visit to the TPC at Deere Run (par-71, 7,183 yards) in Silvis, Ill., which will play host for the fourth consecutive year.
Its the 32nd edition of the event. J.P. Hayes is the defending champion. Hayes took control of the tournament a year ago with a course-record 10-under 61 in Round 2. He then shot back-to-back 67s over the weekend to hold off Robert Gamez.
Hayes isnt in the best of shape as he returns to the site of second-career tour victory (1998 Buick Classic). He injured his ankle prior to the Deutsche Bank Championship, where he missed the cut, and then pulled out of the Bell Canadian.
While Hayes wont have to worry about losing his card for another year, others, like David Frost, are just beginning a critical stretch of tournaments.
There are eight full-field events remaining on the 2003 tour calendar. And many of the top-ranked players are taking time off over the next three weeks.
Frost is a two-time winner of this event. In fact, hes the only player in tournament history to successfully defend his title, doing so in 1993. Both of those victories, however, came at Oakwood Country Club in Coal Valley, Ill.
Oakwood was the host from 1975-99. Crow Valley Country Club in Bettendorf, Iowa, was the original site, from 1972-74.
Frost, who will turn 44 Thursday, is 140th on the money list. He finished 126th in earnings a year ago, missing the magic number by less than $6,000.
Frost is one of three multiple John Deere winners (Scott Hoch 1980, 84; D.A. Weibring 1979, 91, 95).
Three of the last four winners have made this event their first tour victory: J.L. Lewis started the trend in 1999; Michael Clark continued it in 2000; David Gossett won on a sponsors exemption in 01.
But the John Deere is more likely to be a players final triumph than his first. Seven of the last eight champions have yet to win since riding the big green tractor into the winners circle.
David Toms, who won in 1997, is the lone exception. The then-named Quad City Classic was the first on his winning resume, but certainly not the last ' hes won eight times since.
Toms isnt in this years field. Davis Love III, Vijay Singh and Justin Leonard are the only top-20 players on the Official World Golf Ranking in attendance.