He didn't make a U-turn whenever he saw a notepad or a TV crew. He wasn't concerned about the PGA Tour money list. Mention the word bubble, and Browne probably was thinking champagne.
That wasn't the case a year ago in the Chrysler Championship, when Browne showed up at Innisbrook dangling at No. 125 on the money list and needing to stay there if he wanted to keep his PGA Tour card. He declined interviews before the tournament, and after missing the cut, he made a quick exit to an uncertain future.
But two months ago, Browne won the Deutsche Bank Championship, then tied for second in the Texas Open. He already has earned nearly $2 million -- his best season ever -- and is making plans for his first Tour Championship.
He hasn't forgotten where he was, and what guys now on the bubble are going through.
``It's a hard place to be,'' he said. ``Everybody wants a piece of you. Guys are crawling out of the booth to interview you on the putting green. What you want to do is focus on preparing, not what you're up against. But what everyone else wants to talk about is what you're up against.''
It's not quite that bad this year at Innisbrook, although nerves are still frayed.
The Chrysler Championship, which starts Thursday with a field that includes defending champion Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen and David Toms, was supposed to be the final full-field event on the PGA Tour. That changed when Hurricane Katrina postponed the Southern Farm Bureau Classic in Mississippi to next week. Those who fail to finish inside the top 125 on the money list -- or the top 40 to get into the Masters -- still have one more chance.
The only thing at stake this week is finishing in the top 30 to get into the Tour Championship.
That's still enough to get some players' attention.
Charles Howell III is at No. 30 on the money list, and after a pro-am round that lasted nearly five hours, he was on the putting green and then at the practice range, firing long irons into a cool, stiff wind.
He was 33rd on the money list last year at Innisbrook, shot 3 over on the weekend and didn't make it. And to remind him what it takes to get to East Lake, all Howell has to do is consider last week at Disney, where he tied for 15th to earn $68,200 and didn't move anywhere on the money list.
``It's going to take a good week,'' he said. ``It doesn't matter if you're 25th or 40th. You've got to play good.''
B.C. Open winner Jason Bohn is 31st, a mere $2,570 behind Howell. At the very least, Bohn has to make the cut and finish ahead of Howell to get to the Tour Championship.
``After winning, then finishing second in Boston, my goal since then has been to finish in the top 30 on the money list,'' Bohn said. ``I missed the cut last week. If I had made the cut, I might be inside that number. I did look at the money list, and between 28 and 33, there's not a big difference. So, I'm a solid week away.''
Right behind him is Peter Lonard of Australia, who won the MCI Heritage this year and is $6,419 behind Howell.
Lonard once finished 127th on the money list in Europe and had to go to qualifying school, so he has some perspective on the difference between playing for his job and playing for a perk -- the $6.5 million Tour Championship.
``I want to get in, but I've had six months of opportunities to close it out,'' Lonard said. ``I've got myself to blame. But it's not like I'm trying to keep my card. I've been in that position. This would be cream on the cake.''
Browne knows the feeling, considering his amazing turnaround.
He had to rely on sponsor's exemption and his status as a past champion on the PGA Tour, but his 18 months of grinding over swing changes with coach Jim Hardy finally paid off.
The first sign came at the U.S. Open, where he was in the second-to-last group Sunday at Pinehurst No. 2, only three shots behind Goosen, until shooting 80 in the final round. But the 46-year-old hit broke though outside Boston, winning the Deutsche Bank Championship for his first victory in six years.
Looking back at where he was a year ago, it is hard to fathom going to the Tour Championship.
``I have never made top 30 in my career. I hadn't done anything to feel confident enough that top 30 was attainable,'' Browne said. ``It's a pat on the back for the guys who have played great. But this is all about a couple of years of hunkering down and doing better.''
Asked about his goals, Browne said he doesn't bother setting any.
``If I set my goals too low, I get to them too easily. If I set them too high, I go insane,'' he said. ``I just want to play well. Because if you play well, and you give yourself a chance to play well every day, all that stuff takes care of itself.''
That's good advice to the guys on the bubble, a spot Browne knows all too well.
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