LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – This is what happens when life doesn’t stay to script. Instead of super Sunday at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic the stars are aligning for something closer to the status quo.
Justin Leonard, a day removed from an accounting snafu that appeared to cost him his status in 2012 then reinstated his membership, played like a man without a worry. As did rookie Kevin Chappell, the co-leaders through 54 holes at 14 under par.
“I’ve got nothing to lose,” said Chappell, who entered the week at 83rd in earnings.
For about 90 minutes on Friday Leonard felt like he had everything to lose following a mix up over his status for next year. Leonard called the Tour a few weeks ago and was informed he was exempt in ’12 despite his position outside the top 125, but on Friday he was initially told that his membership next season was contingent on his use of a one-time career money list exemption or his play at Disney.
“For about an hour and a half I thought OK, I need to do something really special,” said Leonard, who was later informed he had full status in ’12 based on a change to the rules for major championship winners.
All of which made Saturday’s 70, which included three chip-ins, a relatively stress-free endeavor and sets the stage for an anticlimactic finish.
Even the old standbys, the race for the top 125 in earnings and Tour card nirvana, were flat on Day 3. James Driscoll, your “bubble boy” at 125th, slumped to a third-round 73 but is currently projected at 121st in earnings; while Bio Kim remains just a stroke behind the leaders yet is projected at 131st.
There is the opportunity for money list movement on Sunday. Bobby Gates, who entered the week at 124th but is currently projected at No. 126 after Saturday’s 74, will be watched carefully; as will Steven Bowditch, who has climbed from 135th to projected 124th and is tied for ninth place.
Yet even the year’s ultimate cash bout between current Nos. 1 and 2 Webb Simpson and Luke Donald, respectively, received a blow when the Englishman, who was 11 under through 13 holes and tied for third, doubled bogeyed the par-5 14th after hitting into a water hazard.
Donald needs to finish in a tie for second or better and Simpson must finish outside the top 20 for the world No. 1 to claim the money title. With Simpson tied for ninth Donald’s shot at history is running out of time.
Donald will get a chance to start a new streak on Sunday. His machine-like run of 483 consecutive holes without a three-putt came to an end on Saturday when he raced his first effort from 34 feet at the 14th hole 8 feet past the cup and failed to convert the bogey attempt.
“Did I win a prize?” Donald smiled when asked his thoughts about his run.
The tournament did get a late boost, with Simpson and Donald heading out together for the fourth consecutive day. Whether the yearlong money race turns into 18 holes of match play seems doubtful.
Luckily for tournament organizers there are stories in every corner of the money list that have a history of turning Sunday’s status quo into something super.