VERONA, N.Y. – Nearly a year later, Vaughn Taylor still laments what might have been.
With the Turning Stone Resort Championship there for the taking in a sudden-death playoff with Matt Kuchar early last October, Taylor let it slip away. After watching his 21-foot putt for birdie stop just shy of the cup, Taylor made double-bogey on the sixth extra hole to give Kuchar his first victory on the PGA Tour in seven years.
“It took me a little while to kind of get over it, but at the same time it helped me lock up my card, and you know, it was a good thing,” Taylor said. “I used it as confidence. Coming into this year, when I’ve been in the hunt, I’ve felt a lot better because of last year and the playoff. So it’s been a positive all in all.
“Still think about it every now and then, wish I had a shot or two over again, but that’s the way it goes.”
While Kuchar tees off at the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio on Thursday, Taylor will be back at Atunyote Golf Club to compete in the Turning Stone Resort Championship.
The 34-year-old Taylor, who has two victories on tour – the Reno-Tahoe Open in 2004 (in a playoff) and again in 2005 – is brimming with confidence after finishing sixth at the John Deere Classic two weeks ago, his fifth top 10 of the year.
“I think confidence is definitely high,” said Taylor, 38th on the money list with $1.5 million. “Anytime you play well somewhere and you come back, you have good memories, good feelings.”
Turning Stone is part of the race for the FedEx Cup title this year after being part of the Fall Series since its inception. And good things have happened to its past two champions.
Dustin Johnson was 357th in the Official World Golf Rankings the week before he won at Turning Stone as a rookie two years ago. Johnson has since won twice on tour, and his victory at Pebble Beach in February made Johnson the first player since Tiger Woods to win in his first three years on tour after leaving college.
Kuchar ranked 101st in the OWGR the week before his playoff victory over Taylor and went on to record top 10s in four of his next five starts. This year, Kuchar is ranked No. 26, two spots ahead of Johnson, and both are poised to qualify for their first Ryder Cup team.
Among those in the Turning Stone field of 132 are: Steve Flesch, the inaugural winner in 2007, David Duval, Rocco Mediate, and Australian John Senden, who has two top fives in three starts at Atunyote.
Notah Begay III, the tournament’s ambassador, will play this year after missing last year’s event because of a knee injury that required surgery. Begay has not made a cut in eight tries on tour this year.
“I’ve got no expectations. I’ve made zero money on the tour this year,” said Begay, who played 15 events in 2009 before taking a medical exemption. “For me, just getting through a tournament without being in pain is a success, and I’m hoping to do that.”
Turning Stone Resort chief executive Ray Halbritter originally gave himself a sponsor’s exemption to play in the tournament, then recanted on Sunday. The 60-year-old Halbritter, who has passed a PGA of America playing ability test, was the driving force behind landing a PGA Tour event here four years ago and said he didn’t want to be a distraction.
Two players did receive exemptions. Chris Smith, whose wife was killed in a fiery automobile crash in northern Indiana just over a year ago, has made just one cut in eight events this year as he tries to rebound from the tragedy. The other exemption went to 15-year-old phenom Gavin Hall of Pittsford, N.Y., who will be making his first career PGA start.
If Hall makes the cut – and that’s entirely possible because two weeks ago the left-hander shot a 10-under-par 62 to set an all-time scoring record at the U.S. Junior Amateur – he would be the second-youngest player in PGA Tour history to do so (Bob Panasik was the youngest, at the 1957 Canadian Open).
“It’s exciting,” Begay said. “He may never play another tour event again, but I’m hoping that he just enjoys it and doesn’t get too caught up in the competition.'
“Nobody’s expecting him to do well, so I think it’s more important for him to have fun and to really take as much experience as he can from the process and help him become a better player.”
Divots: The PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, the final major of the year, has reserved two spots in case the winners of this week’s Bridgestone Invitational and the Turning Stone Resort Championship are not already eligible. The first two alternates are D.J. Trahan and Matt Jones.