Mr. Bubble: Thatcher's wild rides

By Jason SobelOctober 25, 2011, 12:00 am

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Most guys would be biting their fingernails down to the cuticles. Pacing a pattern into the living-room carpet. Enduring heart palpitations that would make an ER doc nervous.

Roland Thatcher isn’t most guys.

Entering the season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, Thatcher was No. 121 on the PGA Tour money list, which meant all he needed to do was make the cut and his playing privileges would be retained for next season.

Instead, he missed it. By a single shot.

And so Thatcher left Disney World – passing a sign reading, “Where Dreams Come True” on the way out – with his dream of keeping his card very much in limbo, his fate left in the hands of others trying to secure the very same goal.

Rather than fret over the projected money list like an expectant father, he played the role of accepting father at his home in The Woodlands, Texas, casually keeping an eye on the final-round proceedings.

“I’ve got two little kids here at home, so I was busy being Dad,” he explained. “I tried to stay away from it as much as possible, though I wasn’t totally successful.”

How was he able to remain so calm when his career was hanging in the balance? It’s because Thatcher has been through enough crucially close calls he could make a Hollywood producer cringe over the seemingly far-fetched scenarios.

There was the time in 2001, just a year out of Auburn University, when he was playing in the finals of Q-School. Needing a par on the last hole – No. 9 at Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Fla. – his approach shot flew the green, hit the cart path and bounced over the clubhouse roof. He made triple bogey.

“If you’re going to fail,” he said, “it’s probably the most spectacular way you can fail.”

Thatcher played the Nationwide Tour for two years, then found himself in a similarly precarious position at the 2003 edition of Q-School. This time he needed to make birdie on the final hole and rolled in an 18-footer to clinch his PGA Tour card for the first time.

“I knew I needed to make it,” he recalled. “That was a tremendous boost of confidence for me.”

And so he reached the big leagues and lived happily ever after? Not exactly.

Instead, Thatcher found himself back on the Nationwide Tour before too long. In 2007, he enjoyed a breakthrough season, leading the developmental circuit’s money list for much of the campaign.

Heading into the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship, there were only three players who could win and overtake him for the title. Richard Johnson was one of them and did just that. While Thatcher still earned his card, he lost an exemption into The Players Championship and immunity from the reshuffle.

Crazy circumstances – and we haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet.

Two years ago, Thatcher entered the Disney tournament at 119th on the money list and – like this year – missed the cut. Forced to spend the weekend at home, he watched every shot and pored over the projections until he coolly found himself safely inside the number at week’s end.

Then came his real Cinderella story at last year’s edition of the event. At 179th on the money list entering the week, Thatcher joked that he was using the tournament as a practice for Q-School, then raced to a four-stroke lead through 54 holes.

Though he couldn’t maintain the lead, getting lapped by Robert Garrigus on the back nine, Thatcher knew a solo second-place finish would be enough to retain status. Needing to sink a 6-foot par putt on the final hole to reach that number, he made it, ensuring his membership for yet another season.

“That was the most well publicized of my late-season theatrics. I had a really horrible year and was able to put a lot of things together that week,” he explained. “The unique part about last year is that I was trying to win my first tournament, but my secondary goal was finishing solo second to retain my playing privileges for 2011.”

Ah, yes – 2011. It wouldn’t be a money-list bubble if Thatcher wasn’t firmly ensconced and such was the case once again this week.

Following an opening-round 4-under 68, he was at even par in his second round at the more difficult Magnolia Course before making a bogey on the 14th hole. His birdie attempts burned the edge on the next three holes. Knowing he needed par on the last to likely make the cut, his season boiled down to one poor swing of the club.

“I hit a good drive, then just made a bad swing,” he said. “I hit in the left bunker and didn’t get it up and down. If I had parred the last hole, I would have been safe.”

Safely inside the cut line and safely inside the top 125, as even last-place money would have been enough to clinch his status for next season.

Instead, Thatcher headed home and watched – or, as the case was, barely watched. He didn’t know when he was 125th at one point by a mere $45. Didn’t know when D.J. Trahan knocked him out of that position with a final-hole birdie minutes later. Or when Sunghoon Kang sealed his fate with a birdie of his own soon thereafter.

The final 2011 money list shows Thatcher at 127th – so close and yet so far.

He has already signed up for Q-School and will try to regain his playing privileges through the annual grindfest in December. Even if that doesn’t happen, he’ll still have a job next year. Sort of.

“If not, I’m going in the 126-150 category,” he said. “I’ll get probably about 17 starts. The better you play, the more you might be able to get into some more tournaments, so it could be as many as 20.”

This may be the unfavorable end to Thatcher’s season, but – like so many others – it’s hardly the end of the road.

“Going into Q-School, I’m going to be in as good a shape as almost anybody,” he contended. “I’m partially secure for next year – not as good as the guy who finished 125, but I’m not done yet. It’s just going to make 2013 that much tougher.”

Based on Thatcher’s past experiences, “tougher” should be pretty normal by now.

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook sank a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without making a bogey on the Plantation Course or the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

Cook was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back.

Bubba (64) fires his lowest round of 2017

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:12 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Bubba Watson’s plan when he left the Dell Technologies Championship in September was to take a few months off and come back fresh in 2018

Those plans changed after a few weeks.

“What we figured out was the mental side, preparing for kindergarten - not for me, for my son - preparing for [wife] Angie's knee surgery. It's been a tough go,” Watson said.

“Being home and being with the family and everything, I realized how much I missed the game of golf, and that's why I wanted to come and play in these tournaments.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

The plan has paid off this week at the RSM Classic, where Watson is tied for 12th place after a second-round 64 on the Seaside course moved him to 7 under par.

Watson, who tied for 51st two weeks ago in Las Vegas, got off to a quick start on Day 2, playing the opening nine in 29. Despite a miscue at the 14th hole, when his tee shot wedged into a tree, he was solid coming in for his best individual round this year.

The left-hander was particularly sharp with his ball-striking after what has been a difficult year.

“I want to play golf now and right now I'm swinging at it pretty nicely,” he said.

S.H. Park (65) builds three-shot lead at LPGA finale

By Doug FergusonNovember 17, 2017, 9:58 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Golf felt so easy to Sung Hyun Park that only when she took out her card to catch up on her scores did she realize she had closed out the front nine with five straight birdies at the CME Group Tour Championship.

Park kept right on attacking.

The 24-year-old from South Korea added a 30-foot eagle putt late in her second round and finished with a 7-under 65, giving her a three-shot lead going into the weekend at Tiburon Golf Club.

Nothing seems to bother her, even the chance to cap off an amazing rookie season by sweeping all the big awards on the LPGA Tour.

''To be honest, I don't feel quite as nervous as I thought I would,'' Park said through an interpreter. ''After the first shot, after the first hole, I felt a lot more comfortable. I'm not feeling as nervous as I thought I might be going into today.''

Leave that to the players chasing her.

Even with a three-putt bogey on the final hole, Park was at 12-under 132 and was three shots clear of Caroline Masson (66) and Sarah Jane Smith (69).

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

More importantly, none of the other players in the chase for the $1 million Race to the CME Globe bonus or any other big award was within five shots of Park, who is trying to become the first rookie since Nancy Lopez in 1978 to win LPGA player of the year.

Lexi Thompson, who leads the Race to the CME Globe and the Vare Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average, shot a 67 and wound up losing ground. She was six shots behind and must stay within 10 shots of Park to win the Vare.

So Yeon Ryu, who leads the points-based award for player of the year, managed a 71 with her sore right shoulder but was 11 shots back.

The other two players who need to win the tournament to collect the $1 million bonus also had their work cut out for them. Brooke Henderson had another 70 and was eight shots behind, while world No. 1 Shanshan Feng shot 73 and was 11 shots behind.

Park was in control, only she didn't see it that way.

''I don't think it's quite that far of a lead,'' Park said. ''Two, three shots of a lead can change at any moment. We will have to see what's in store for this weekend.''

Park began her big run with an 18-foot birdie on No. 5, got up-and-down for birdie from just off the green at the par-5 sixth, holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 7, and then closed out the front nine with birdie putts from 8 feet and 15 feet.

''I actually didn't know that I was going five birdies in a row,'' Park said. ''Come hole No. 10, I realized that I hadn't been jotting down my scores as diligently, and so I realized it a little bit later on. And it felt great.''

That gave her the lead by one shot over Suzann Pettersen, except that Pettersen faded badly on the back nine.

Pettersen dropped four shots in a three-hole stretch by getting out of position off the tee and she shot 39 on the back nine for a 70 to fall five shots behind.

''I feel like I'm playing good,'' Pettersen said. ''Three bad drives on the back nine cost me four shots. That should not be possible on this course, where the fairways are about 100 yards wide.''

Park was honored at an awards banquet Thursday night as the LPGA rookie of the year. Now, she has more awards in her sights. A victory would give her the award for player of the year. She would capture the money title, which she leads over Ryu. And depending on how the weekend goes, she might be able to surpass Thompson in the race for the Vare Trophy.

Thompson did well to recover from two bogeys on her opening three holes.

''I hit a few really erratic shots in the beginning. It wasn't a good start to the round,'' Thompson said. ''Just tried to stay positive and find something that could work for the last 14, 15 holes.''

Lydia Ko fell six shots behind in her bid to avoid a winless season. She was one shot behind going into the second round but managed only three birdies in her round of 71.

Park, meanwhile, had everything going her way. Even when she pulled her drive on the par-5 14th into a sandy area with a root next to her ball, she picked it clear and sent it through a goal post of trees back to the fairway. Three holes later, she blasted a drive and had only a 7-iron into the green at the par-5 17th, which she hit to 30 feet and made the long putt.

Does anything make her nervous?

''I hate spiders,'' she said. ''But in terms of golf, I always get nervous to this day on the first tee. I can feel my heart pounding.''

It's a feeling that doesn't appear to last very long.