In the end, Luke Donald became the second rookie to win on the PGA Tour in 2002, and his victory came one week following the first rookie to win, Jonathan Byrd. The victory and its importance wasnt lost on Donald, who moved up to 58th on the year-end money list, but it was the tournament within the tournament that provided the widest grins.
Jay Williamson finished in a tie for fifth, earned $85,150, and jumped from 134th in earnings to 125th, thus grabbing that coveted final exempt spot on the 2003 PGA Tour. He was almost giddy when interviewed by Curt Byrum. Even though he had a legitimate chance to win his first PGA Tour event, Jay use a football analogy akin to taking points off the board. He then added, Id be lying if I told you I was disappointed in the outcome.
Deane Pappas and Brad Elder also made huge jumps up the money list. Pappas second-place finish vaulted him from 170th to 129th, and Elders third-place finish resulted in a climb to 147th. Ultimately, these were probably the biggest two changes. Finishing inside the top 150 guarantees, at the very minimum, some status on the PGA Tour next year and it also includes an exemption through the preliminary stages of Q-School. Outside the top 150 only carries the benefit of being a conditional member of the Nationwide Tour for 2003.
My mother always said that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, said Pappas in responding to the question about whether he was disappointed not to have a chance to play the final round and win the tournament. In truth, his professional outlook just got much brighter due to the dark clouds. This is the biggest check, by far, of my career and itll help pay for that new house. But my world is now much better than it was when I got here, said a smiling Pappas. I certainly didnt want to play in these conditions.
As is always the case at the final tournament, there were a few disappointed players. Most notably was David Frost who missed the cut and ultimately fell out of the top 125. Short of a successful Q-School, Frost will still have a full schedule, but it wont always be at his choosing. Hell be relegated to sponsors exemptions and entry into some of the smaller tournaments.
One of the stories that didnt get much publicity but certainly provided some heartache was the plight of Bryce Molder. This story is a bit more complicated to explain because Molder isnt a member of the PGA Tour. Well, sort of.
Earlier this season, Bryce earned enough money to equal the top 150 from the 200 money list. This feat earned Molder a special temporary member designation and allowed him to receive unlimited sponsors exemptions. Entering the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, Bryce was just inside the top 150. Well, sort of. He was listed on the non-members money list. This list was created so that the WGC tournaments didnt skew the PGA Tour money list by including players who didnt otherwise compete on the PGA Tour. Now this is where it gets a little confusing.
Had Bryce Molder earned enough money to finish inside this years top-150, his name still wouldnt be included on the official money list, but he would have received an exemption into the finals of Q-School. However, he still wouldnt have received the same conditional status that is guaranteed to both Pappas and Elder on next years PGA Tour. Well, he missed the cut and fell just outside the top 150.
Now if Molder were a PGA Tour member and finished in that same position, he would have been included in the top 151-200 category. This category is guaranteed conditional status on the Nationwide Tour and is granted access ahead of most of the other conditional categories. As it stands for Bryce, he earned nothing of the kind by his PGA Tour performance this year. He did, however, earn conditional status on the Nationwide Tour based on his play on that tour this year in limited starts.
What all this means is that if he doesnt have a successful Q-School, Molder is basically starting from scratch in 2003. When he was explaining all this to my puzzled face on Friday afternoon, he said, I dont really understand it either. I didnt make the rules, but those same confusing rules are what allowed me to play 22 events on the PGA Tour this season. He seemed grateful. The kid has a great attitude, and his eventual success is all but a given. Hopefully, it wont take him long to earn his permanent place on the PGA Tour.
Included were a record 18 first-time winners on the PGA Tour including back to back rookies to end the year; two veterans, Sauers and Forsman, resurrecting their careers with victories; a surprise name change on the Senior Tour; one of the greatest seasons in the history of the LPGA Tour authored by Annika Sorenstam; a high school junior contracting mono and getting a medical exemption for next year; and a technicality mandated the rain-shortened Buy.Com Tour Championship all combined to make this one of the most unusual seasons ever.
I cant wait to do it all again next year.
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