Who says golf ends after the PGA Championship? Or after the playoffs, for that matter? It’s mid-November and I just watched four of the top 10 players in the world teeing it up across the globe on our Golf Channel coverage. World No. 2 Tiger Woods competed in Australia and finished solo fourth in his JBWere Masters title defense, while No. 3 Martin Kaymer, No. 4 Phil Mickelson and No. 10 Graeme McDowell were main attractions in Asia at the Singapore Open where other superstars Adam Scott and Ian Poulter were locked in a battle much of the day.
But less than a 20-minute drive down the road from our Golf Channel studios where I spent my afternoon after walking the Disney Magnolia Course in the morning, a couple of much lesser known players stole the spotlight. Robert Garrigus, who lived through a final-round meltdown and painful playoff loss to Lee Westwood at the St. Jude Classic, captured the Disney title with the pressure on to keep his card.
Garrigus, who entered the week just three spots inside the all-important top 125 on the money list, was one of four players who came into Sunday in the top 6 on the leaderboard playing to keep their job. He succeeded. And so did 54-hole leader Roland Thatcher who had to finish solo second or better to do so. He cashed in at No. 122.
Rookie Troy Merritt landed in the final spot to be fully-exempt on the PGA Tour for 2011. He teed off not knowing whether he would be back on Tour next season. With a final round 5-under 67 Merritt tied for 30th, picking up a check for just over $26,000.
But he alone couldn’t control his fate. Johnson Wagner, starting the week at No. 153 on the money list, tied for third with Rickie Fowler and Spencer Levin to collect a hefty check of $244,400. A lot of money, for certain, but it was still $33,000 short of reaching Merritt and good only for 126th in the money rankings. Had he made just one more birdie, one less bogey, or finished third on his own, Wagner would not be making a trip to the final stage of Q-School in early December.
It’s a small world when you think just one shot can make such a difference.
Especially considering Merritt, again, who still sat on the hot seat after the conclusion of the tournament. This time, with the chance to control his own fate, he faced off against Fowler and Aaron Baddeley in a playoff for the Kodak Challenge. His 133-yard approach at the Kodak Challenge hole – the difficult par-4 17th – landed 18 inches from the pin. A $1 million shot he executed perfectly.
Who would have thought it? Mid-November, Tiger, Phil, major champions Kaymer and McDowell all battling for titles at exotic locations across the globe. But the magical day belonged to Garrigus, Thatcher and Merritt in the happiest place on Earth.