Life on the bubble


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – With apologies to those with weak constitutions the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic was about throwing up – raw, unabashed vomiting of the literal and metaphorical varieties.

Gag Sunday began in the PGA Tour’s fitness trailer for James Driscoll, the top-125 poster child entering the week and as honest a customer as one can find in the play-for-pay set.

“I threw up four times this morning,” Driscoll revealed following his Sunday round at Disney. “I’m not sure if it was nerves or something I ate. I think it could have been a combination of the two.

Or maybe it was something that has been eating away at Driscoll and the other members of the year-ending cash crunch for weeks: Ten months and mountains of missed chances always come down to the bitter end for the likes of Driscoll.

Driscoll rallied from his sickly start, signed for 68 to tie for 12th and finished 114th in earnings.

“If you’re going to throw up it’s better to do it before the round than during it,” reasoned D.J. Trahan, who shot 70 with a 22-footer for birdie at the last to land the final 2012 card at 125th in earnings.

Steven Bowditch didn’t make any impromptu trips to the restroom before or after his round. Instead he saved his throwing up for his closing nine at Disney’s Magnolia Course, carding four bogeys and three birdies over his final loop for a 72 that dropped him outside the top 125 (he was projected at 120th following a birdie at the 10th hole) to 132nd and back to Q-School.

In Bowditch’s defense, the Australian was playing with a broken bone in his hand. Really, he broke the bone in his pinkie finger last Friday when a valet at Sea Island Resort accidentally slammed a car door on his right hand.

Bowditch was told by three doctors that if he could withstand the pain he could play, although he was initially advised he would be in a cast for four weeks.

“I had to think about the top 125-150,” said Bowditch, who began the week 135th on the money list. “I was close to pulling out on Saturday after I hit my tee shot at No. 12. The pain just shot up my arm.”

On Sunday the pain was spread evenly throughout a field fighting all manner of cash demons.

Driscoll may have thrown up before his round, but Sunghoon Kang had the pale, sickly look of a man about to hurl as he awaited his money-list fate. The Korean darted between the scoring hut and the 18th green for 30 minutes trying to figure out if he was headed for Q-School or Hawaii to start next season.

When Kevin Chappell’s birdie attempt at the last slipped past the hole Kang’s shoulders slumped and he allowed a long-awaited exhale. “I’m dreaming right now,” he said. “I was really nervous. If I had a bad day today . . . you never know. One day can’t change my life but . . .”

Luke Donald, who was playing only for history, may have had the biggest day of his career. Trailing Webb Simpson by $363,000 to start the week, the Englishman’s quest to become the first dual-member to win both the PGA Tour and European Tour money titles seemed to stall when Simpson birdied the eighth and Donald bogeyed for a two-stroke swing in what amounted to a match-play money race.

But Donald did what top-ranked players do, pouring in six consecutive birdies starting at the 10th hole to cruise to his second Tour victory of 2011 and the cash crown.

“When you’re playing with the best player in the world and he makes six straight birdies it’s tough to beat,” said Simpson, who finished tied for sixth place for his seventh top-10 showing in his last nine starts.

In retrospect the only thing East Lake decided is which millionaire inched closer to early retirement. But the real money drama at Disney wasn’t measured in millions, it was measured in pocket change. At one point on Sunday the difference between relative heartbreak and heroics was $142. That’s the advantage projected No. 125 Roland Thatcher had over projected No. 126 Trahan, at least for a moment.

Truth is, following the action was dizzying enough to make one queasy. Early during a picture-perfect afternoon Bobby Gates, No. 124 to begin the week, double-bogeyed the fifth hole to drop to No. 125 in projected earnings. Four holes and an untimely three-putt at the ninth later (he started on the 10th hole) there was nothing theoretical about his position – 126th.

“Me and James (Driscoll) talked about it at the beginning of the week. We could finish fifth and sixth and someone could finish first, second and third and beat us,” said Gates following his closing 71. “This is the hardest part. Tom Petty wrote his song about it, ‘the waiting is the hardest part.’ At the end of the day you hope you’ve done enough.”

Waiting is all Thatcher had left to do on Sunday after missing the cut and he spent much of the day teetering at 125th in earnings. It was a cruel twist that Thatcher’s card dreams were dashed by Kang in the third-to-last group.

Kang’s birdie at the last pushed him to 120th on the money list and dropped Thatcher outside top-125 nirvana. It’s the second consecutive year Thatcher’s Tour status was decided on the last week of the season.

It was all enough to make the rank and file consider loading up on barf bags, or stock up on Dramamine patches, before Disney’s final turn.

“They say Bobby Jones used to throw up before he teed off in every tournament,” Trahan said. “If that’s the case we should all stick our hand down our throats.”