Fifty-four men tee it up this week at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Capitol Hill in Prattville, Ala. Number 1 on the money list is still Arron Oberholser, No. 2 is Patrick Moore and theyll play together in round 1 as the field is sent out in pairs based on their money list ranking.
But when do things get back to normal on this tour? It seems like forever that weve been talking about the four men with two wins each ' Oberholser, Moore, Jason Gore and Cliff Kresge ' trying to get their third. During that time weve seen the likes of Andy Miller, Roland Thatcher, David Branshaw and David Morland win tournaments and put themselves into this elite field. Surprising victors - all of them. And now each has a chance to get to the PGA Tour in 2003 with a spot in the Top 15.
All year Oberholser, Kresge (No. 3), Doug Barron (No. 4) and other top names have been the focus as we tried to pinpoint favorites. And this week, something tells me that the surprise winners are over.
If anybody would appear a lock to contend, it would be No. 9 Aaron Baddeley. Baddeley, the 21-year-old Australian has three top-4 finishes in a row and has all but assured himself a trip to the PGA Tour for 2003. Hes playing great and while he isnt No. 1 on the money list coming in, he might just be No. 1 on the minds of many.
In handicapping the field, Id also like the chances of Marco Dawson, No. 7. Dawson finished second at this Tour Championship three years ago to Spike McRoy. Hes battle-tested, PGA Tour-experienced and just plain good. Also beware Darron Stiles, No. 8. The North Carolinian played here last year and has just the right amount of length and toughness to hang in there.
But this event will, more than anything, be about patience. And with that in mind I like those who are experienced and thick-skinned. Number 17 is Omar Uresti. Omars been to the 'big show.' All he hasnt done on this tour is win. It might just be this week. And if not a win, I wouldnt be surprised to see him leap into the top 15. The same hunch is brewing about Jay Delsing. Jays played 17 years on the PGA Tour and the last two on the Buy.Com Tour. Hes never won at the big level, but won last year on the Buy.Com Tour in Arkansas and again this year in Omaha. Jays a new man and might just head home to St. Louis, Mo., with another pass to the PGA Tour.
Longshots might come in the form of No. 29 Emlyn Aubrey or No. 33 Jeff Freeman. Freeman is the former national PGA Club Professional champion and has been hard at work on his game this week. Length is hardly an issue for Freeman on this 7,600-yard layout. The accuracy will be. Number 41 Tom Carteris is long as most and finished second in this field here last year to Pat Bates. And never count out PGA Tour winner Mike Heinen. He plays fast, he plays long and he plays confident. Id hardly be shocked if he walked away with the top prize. Remember, top-15 rules the news but top-30 sends a player to the final stage of Q-School - which is a big bonus.
Should be great. Heres hoping the weather forecast (rain) is wrong and the golf is as good as weve been accustomed to seeing. If we get a surprise winner this week, Ill be surprised.