MADISON, Miss. – Just five years after winning the British Open, Todd Hamilton is fighting for his PGA Tour card at the Viking Classic.
He isn’t alone.
The tournament begins Thursday with dozens of players trying to retain their eligibility with two events left in the 2009 season. All 21 players between Nos. 114 and 135 on the money list are entered. The top 125 get full exempt status on the 2010 Tour.
“It’s important for me to keep my card,” Hamilton said while pelting range balls.
The tournament’s new spot on the schedule makes it a pivotal event for players hovering around the cutoff. And Hamilton has work to do at No. 133.
It’s the first time he’s been in such a difficult position. His Open victory in his first year on tour gave him a five-year exemption. That expires after this year’s season finale Nov. 12-15 at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic.
“I know that it’s a nerve-racking thing if you are on the bubble,” Matt Kuchar said. “The best thing to do is try not think about it, try not figure out what position you’ve got to finish in. Just play good golf.”
Kuchar isn’t worried. He’s 24th on the money list, second only to 14th-place David Toms in the field, and arguably the hottest player among the 132 chasing the $648,000 winner’s check at a waterlogged Annandale Golf Club, after winning three weeks ago and finishing in the top 15 in his last five consecutive tournaments.
Thunderstorms earlier in the week drowned the course, taking some of the bite out of the par-72, 7,199-yard layout and leaving players like rookie Ricky Barnes soaking wet after a Tuesday afternoon practice round.
Barnes, who built a six-shot lead in the third round of the U.S. Open in June before finishing second, is another player with his card on the line. After that runner-up finish at the U.S. Open, he missed six of nine cuts, slipping to No. 121.
Drop five spots and Barnes could wind up back in PGA Tour Qualifying School for a fifth time. He’s never graduated from Q-School, a grueling event capped by a six-round final where the top 25 win full playing rights.
“I’m playing the golf course instead of the rest of the 15 guys near that number,” said Barnes, who finished high enough on the Nationwide Tour money list last season to give him full exemption onto the PGA Tour this year. “You can’t really treat it as match play.”
But Hamilton will, in a way, especially this late in the year. The 44-year-old said during late-season tournaments, scoreboards don’t just show scores. They’ll show the live fluctuations in the money list during the event.
“You look up there and you see 128 by your name,” he said, “it’s a little different than when you see 123 or 124.”
There are a few more familiar names lingering around the cutoff: 2001 PGA champ Rich Beem is No. 124 and former world No. 1 and 2001 British Open champion David Duval is 125th.
Asked if he’s glanced at the money list to figure out what position he needs to finish in these last two tournaments, Hamilton shrugged.
“I haven’t,” he said. “But I may.”