Learn more about 'Quest For the Card', airing Thursdays on The Golf Channel
Going into last weeks event, it looked likely that the top 14 players on the money list had already earned enough to guarantee a top-20 finish and a diploma'a one-way ticket to next years PGA Tour. Coincidentally, the top-14 places on the money list went unchanged in order. Kyle Thompson helped his cause by jumping from 17th to 15th in earnings; however, he still trails Ted Purdy, who sits in 14th, by $20,000.
Jason Dufner was the only player to move into the top 20 after a good tournament in Ontario, Cal., and Tjaart Van Der Walt moved out, from 20th to 22nd after controversially taking the week off to compete in the dunhill links championship on the European Tour.
At this point in the season with so much at stake, few of Tjaarts peers could understand the logic of traveling to Scotland for a week, missing a valuable tournament, and returning to play this week in the Monterey Peninsula Classic after all that travel. Considering Tjaarts continued improvement in his years on the Nationwide Tour, and his proximity to securing a PGA Tour card, the cons of his decision seem to outweigh the pros.
The players on or near the bubble are sure to be tested to the very end. Each tournament, each round, each hole, and each shot takes on more importance as the end draws near. The pressure will most assuredly mount as well.
There is comfort however. Every player in the top 40, give or take a couple of places, knows that theyre guaranteed a top-55 finish, thus earning exempt status for next years Nationwide Tour. They still have another chance to earn PGA Tour status at the fall classic. But Q-School is no fun. And as tough as these last five tournaments may seem, theyre nothing like the hell of Q-School. In short, this is the time of year when covering professional golf is fun, and playing professional golf can be torture.
The Mark Christopher Charity Classic gave two players reason to breathe much easier. And it was these two specific players who were responsible for one of the most exciting finishes ever for a televised Nationwide Tour event, rivaled only by a four-hole playoff between eventual champion Matt Gogel and Jay Williamson at the 1998 Omaha Classic.
A 25-year-old Northwestern University All-America Jess Daley, and the 21-year-old former teenage professional golfer James Oh squared off in what was for all practical purposes a two-horse race. One stroke ahead of Daley and five strokes ahead of those tied for third heading into the final round, James Oh fed off of the partisan crowd, played great golf, and hit an incredible 251-yard 3-iron to the 72nd hole, and two-putted for birdie to force a playoff.
With darkness looming, Daley and Oh traded punches for three holes, both with numerous chances to win outright. The extended drama was welcomed by the large gallery, and when the Southern Californian, Oh, birdied the third playoff hole to win, it was obvious that the fans and sponsors got their moneys worth.
In winning his first-ever Nationwide event, Oh became the eighth non-member this year to earn his way onto the tour. He was also the youngest-ever winner of a Nationwide event, displacing David Duval from that title.
In doing so, Oh also validated a controversial decision to turn professional at 19-years-young after quitting school at UNLV. And last, but not least, he jumped from 225th on the money list to 43rd.
Jess Daleys career-best second place finish vaulted him from a disappointing 89th to 37th in earnings, thus greatly improving his chances to rally for a top-20 finish at years end.
With five more events remaining, three of which can be seen live on The Golf Channel (the next two weeks plus The Nationwide Tour Championship), there are still a few players outside the top 20 that I expect to make some noise.
Charles Warren III is at 23rd and has been playing some of his best golf of the season lately. Roland Thatcher, the defending champion this week in Monterey, is 24th and looking for a big jump this week. Tommy Tolles is 25th and committed to playing every tournament in hopes of getting back to where hes enjoyed much success'The PGA Tour. And Lucas Glover, at 32nd on the money list, has a lot of ground to cover, but has the game to do it.
The Quest for the Card is 30 weeks long, but with five weeks remaining, its long from over.
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