LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) J.P. Hayes is feeling much better about his health than the last time he was in these parts on the PGA Tour. And thanks to a 7-under 65 on Thursday at Disney, his prospects for keeping his card are looking good, too.
Hayes turned a sloppy hole into a birdie on the par-5 10th at Magnolia, then ran off four more birdies in wet and windy conditions to build a one-shot lead in the Children's Miracle Network Classic.
Hayes is No. 123 on the money list with a $16,599 cushion. This is the final event of the PGA Tour season, and the way the Fall Series has gone, no one feels safe. Already, nine players have cracked into the top 125.
"I wouldn't say I was worried about it," Hayes said. "I'd really like to finish in the top 125. Everybody would like to perform better and play less, like Tiger. Unfortunately, not all of us can."
Cameron Beckman, who secured his card last week, played with a sore back but virtually no stress and raced out to a bogey-free 66 in the morning on the longer, tougher Magnolia course. He was joined by Scott Verplank and Ryuji Imada, who played the Palm Course.
Justin Leonard, Woody Austin and Tim Clark, three guys who have no worries about next year, were in a large group at 65 with a couple of guys still sweating it out Dicky Pride, who is at No. 159, and Tag Ridings, who at No. 210 can only keep his card with a victory.
Such concerns now seem but small details to someone like Hayes, 42, who was far more worried about his heart this spring.
He was about an hour down Interstate 4 outside Tampa in March when he felt heart palpitations during the PODS Championship, then dropped to his knees with a light head while walking down the first fairway of the final round.
He was taken to the hospital overnight, wondering if he had suffered a stroke. After seven days of tests at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, doctors diagnosed him with vaso-vagal syncope, in which his blood pressure drops when it should be rising.
If that wasn't enough to shape his perspective on golf, his pro-am partner in the first round did the trick. Hayes was paired with a Zak Russell, a 19-year-old from Toronto who was born two months premature with a bad connection between the trachea and esophagus, meaning it could allow food or stomach acid into his lungs.
Russell has gone through 14 surgeries, and has survived to sport a good game in golf, snowboarding and football.
"You look at that and say, 'Wow!' Hayes said.
Another wow factor for Hayes might be collecting his first victory in five years, although there's still three days to go on rain-soaked resort courses and a leaderboard that is as bunched as ever at Disney.
Seventy players were within five shots of the lead.