Championship Performances


Briny Baird had just completed perhaps the most rigorous tournament in all of golf, and he just wanted to go home. So much so, that he wasnt about to stick around and see whether or not his final score was good enough to earn his PGA Tour card for next season.
Headed to my car, he said. Got a two-, two-and-a-half hour drive ahead of me.
Baird was quite congenial considering the situation. He had just made a 10-foot birdie on the 108th and final hole of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament to post 10 under. But, having finished a few hours ahead of the final group, he knew that wasnt likely good enough.
Bill Haas
Bill Haas' birdie-birdie finish will make him a rookie on the 2006 PGA Tour.
When asked how he felt about his position, Baird responded: Not good. About as good as I felt about finishing 126.
Baird was referencing his finish on this years tour money list. The south Florida native missed holding onto his card by $2,545.
And, just as he thought, he missed regaining it this week by one stroke.
Bairds birdie at the last was clutch considering that he needed to make it just to have any chance of finishing inside the top 30 this week. But thanks to three bogeys on his back nine, his overall performance cannot be considered Championship.
A friend of mine likes to use this word, Championship, to describe a quality competitive performance. Championship is not based on merit; its based on the result produced.
By his definition, doing what is needed to be done in the throws of competition is considered Championship. It could relate to a kicker making a 45-yard field goal to win the Super Bowl or it could relate to guy chugging a beer faster than everyone else at the bar.
Championship would best describe the performance of many at this weeks Q-school, including Bill Haas.
Haas, the son of nine-time tour winner Jay, had been in this precarious position before, on the cusp of earning his card.
The 2003-04 NCAA Player of the Year, Haas was primed to make it through the qualifying tournament a year ago, but could only manage a closing 71. He missed the cut by two strokes.
That relegated him to the Nationwide Tour -- where he definitely did not want to be, and where he entered this years Tour Championship on the money bubble. That bubble burst and he ultimately finished 23rd in earnings.
That sent him back to school.
It appeared that history would again repeat itself this Monday. The 23-year-old Wake Forest All-American made the turn on the Panther Lake course at Orange County National at 12 under for the tournament, a stroke inside the cut line. He then proceeded to bogey 10, 11 and 15.
This Deacon was seeing demons.
I thought I was going the wrong way. I thought I was going to be doing it again next year, talking about how close I had come, he said.
Instead, with the support of his father in the gallery, Haas made a tough 6-foot par save on 16 ' one that he called the biggest putt of his round, and then a slick 8-foot birdie putt at 17.
That put him back to 10 under, which he thought would be good enough to get his card. That also put the pressure back on his shoulders.
I was definitely nervous on the last hole. (On) 17 I felt good; I had nothing to lose. I had to make birdie. And then once I made the birdie I had something to lose, he said.
Thats the same time when the nerves woke up inside Papa Haas.
It wasnt that bad until the last hole, the elder Haas said. It was gut-wrenching.
This from a guy who knows well the rigors of the Ryder Cup.
Haas ultimately made birdie at the last, surviving an extended wait in the fairway and a 45-foot downhill, two-tiered putt after reaching the green in two.
To birdie those last two holes will definitely make the drive back to Greensville (S.C.) pretty sweet, he said.
Much sweeter than Bairds drive down to Jupiter after getting confirmation of his finish.
Haas par-birdie-birdie finish to capture his card on the number definitely qualifies as Championship.
So, too, does Danny Ellis eagle chip-in at the last to earn his card on the number; and Brian Batemans 50-foot eagle putt on 18 to seal a return to the tour; and Michael Connells birdie on the final hole to secure his first trip to the big leagues; and Alex Aragons closing 65 to make it by one.
Not everyones performance, however, could be classified as Championship.
Certainly not Scott Hends. He started the day tied for sixth place, shot 78, and finished two off the cut line at 9 under.
And not Joseph Alfieris. He also shot 78 and fell from a tie for 10th into a tie for 54th.
And not Tommy Tolles. After a run of six birdies in nine holes, he was dead on the number heading to the last hole. And then he hit it dead in the water off the tee and finished with a dreadful double bogey.
Tolles was left to make the lonely walk back to his SUV, his hands clasped together atop his head. His caddie followed behind him, his head hung low. Dead silence.
Of all the clutch performances Monday, none was more Championship than that of John Engler.
It took the former Clemson All-American four years to make it to the PGA Tour. But even time doesnt tell how long that road really was.
Engler was in a March 2003 car crash that killed two passengers in the colliding vehicle. Englers leg was badly broken. It required six surgeries, and doctors feared he would forever walk with a limp.
Dont ever give up, was Englers message to any and everyone faced with adversity. Whatever cards youre dealt, keep your head up.
Englers next card will be dealt to him by the PGA Tour.
Fully recovered, the 27-year-old Augusta, Ga., native closed in 67-68 to finish tied for 13th.
Now thats Championship.
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