There was a two-way tie at the top of the leaderboard going into Sundays final round at the Childrens Miracle Network Classic Presented by Wal-Mart:
1. Scott Verplank -13 (15-10)
1. Stephen Ames -13 (73-36)
It was the last day of the last tournament of the season where earnings counted towards the final 2007 money list. So Verplanks 15-10 meant he had begun the week 15th on the money list and figured to move up to No. 10 if he won.
The next set of names were even more intriguing:
3. Tim Petrovic -12 (92-78)
3. Matthew Goggin -12 (107-86)
3. Jeff Overton -12 (117-92)
3. Tag Ridings -12 (210-173)
3. Justin Leonard -12 (35-31)
Justin Leonard, who hasnt missed a Masters in his entire career as a professional, needed to improve his standing on the final money list by one spot at the end of the round from his projected finish at the beginning of the day. A spot in the top 30 on the final money gets your ticket punched for Augusta in 2008. Tag Ridings actually needed to win at Disney Sunday to jump into the top 125.
So Sunday was a tournament within a tournament. And, at the risk of self-promotion, its one of the cool things about working at GOLF CHANNEL. The graphics people there get it. They knew viewers wanted to see where players stood, at any given point in their rounds, with respect to their projected finish on the money list.
Meanwhile, over in Europe there was a similar situation. Justin Rose found himself in a dogfight for the Volvo Masters event at Valderrama in Spain. But he was also looking to win his first Order of Merit, the fancy name the Euros have for their money list.
By the time Rose entered a three-way playoff for the championship, he already had locked down the No. 1 spot on the Order of Merit. Then he birdied the second hole of the playoff to win the tournament proper.
Because he had started the day with a 4-shot lead over Simon Dyson and Padraig Harrington, Rose was more than a little relieved when all the tumult and shouting had died down.
Im sure theres an easy way to do this stuff, Englishman Rose said. But it doesnt feel like it.
Meanwhile, back in Florida there were nine other names that were must watch players prior to the start of the final round:
Heath Slocum -11 (31-29)
Robert Gamez -10 (152-141)
J. P. Hayes -10 (123-120)
Brett Wetterich -10 (28-26)
Tripp Isenhour '9 (151-148)
Jeff Gove -9 (153-149)
Kevin Stadler -9 (127-124)
Steve Lowery -9 (149-144)
Craig Kanada -8 (129-128).
Top 125 gets a player full status for 2008. Top 150 gets partial status. Anything below 150, if you are an American touring pro, is golfing purgatory when it comes to getting into PGA TOUR events.
(No disrespect meant here to the Nationwide Tour. It has evolved into a competitive, well-run, even sometimes lucrative opportunity for players. And it is loaded with talent. But the point here is all that talent is trying to move up to the next level and stay there.)
Through seven holes Sunday Leonard was 2 under and had moved into a tie for the lead with Verplank and Ames. Through eight holes Ridings was 1 under on his round and just one back of the leaders.
After nine holes Leonard had dropped into a tie for second but had been projected into No. 25 on the money list. Playing golf is difficult enough, as Rose noted. But trying to win a tournament while simultaneously finding a prescribed spot on the money list can be very tricky business.
In the end Leonard and Ridings fell short. Bogeys on 10 and 13 stopped Leonard in his tracks. He can still qualify for the 2008 Masters but he must do it by winning before Augusta next year or climbing into the top 50 in the world rankings.
The winners Sunday were Slocum who moved into the No. 30 slot and will go to the next Masters; Gamez, whose closing 68 jumped him from oblivion up to No. 132 on the final money list; and Stadler, who hung on tenaciously to No. 124 much of the day and finished there.
Its not life or death, Stadler said at the end of the day. But its a helluva big deal.
Oh, by the way, Ames won the golf tournament.
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