Surprise Fall Series winners should be no surprise

Cameron Beckman was surprised to see his name attached to an online poll Tuesday morning, a pleasant reminder how quickly fortunes can change on the PGA Tour this time of the year.

The tour's Web site posted this question: Which Fall Series winner was the biggest surprise?

"Forty percent were voting for me,'' Beckman said.

If only the tour had offered "all of the above'' as an option. It might have been unanimous.

Really, there should be no surprises in the Fall Series because the players who might be expected to win aren't playing. Of the seven multiple winners on tour this year, none has teed it up in America since the Tour Championship.

That doesn't mean the Fall Series is a waste of time - certainly not to those scrambling to keep their jobs.

Sure, television ratings are abysmal (anywhere between 0.2 and 0.3), which is to be expected during football season. Then again, they weren't that much better a few years ago when these tournaments were the final stops on the way to the Tour Championship.

Even so, the Fall Series is serving its purpose. Think of it as seven last chances to avoid Q-school. As for the golf? Two of the five events were decided in a playoff, and the other three were not decided until the 18th hole.

What's peculiar about this year are the guys winning.

The inaugural Fall Series produced winners like Justin Leonard, Mike Weir, Chad Campbell, Stephen Ames and Steve Flesch, all of whom were past champions, if not major champions. Most were looking to build confidence, or to finish the year with a victory so they could start the next year in Hawaii.

This year smacks more of desperation.

Among the Fall Series winners, the highest-ranked player on the money list going into his victory was Zach Johnson at No. 125. He is exempt through 2012 because of his Masters victory, but Johnson had a sour taste about how his year had gone until winning the Valero Texas Open.

The others?

Will MacKenzie was No. 178 on the money list until he birdied three of his last four holes to get into a playoff at the Viking Classic, where he outlasted Marc Turnesa. Goodbye, Q-school. Hello, Maui.

Now if Willie Mac can just remember to not give out his hotel room at the Ritz in Kapalua to a television audience.

Dustin Johnson, a big-hitting rookie, was No. 128 on the money list when he birdied his last two holes to win at Turning Stone.

Turnesa got his payback in Las Vegas. Losing the playoff at the Viking Classic helped move him up to No. 138 and get within range of a card. His clutch birdie on the 17th hole for a one-shot victory gave him a job for the next two years.

"That's what this is supposed to be - a chase for the card,'' Beckman said.

Beckman must have felt as though he were chasing the wind. This year was among the worst of his 10 years on tour. He withdrew from consecutive tournaments with back pain, had an epidural, played nine times in a 10-week stretch trying to find his rhythm, then was forced to sit out for a month during the FedEx Cup playoffs.

He was 176th on the money list, and No. 447 in the world ranking.

Beckman already had sent in his application for Q-school. It looked as though he would have to make it through two stages, and he talked to wife, Jennifer, about his plight before heading for Phoenix and the Frys.com Open.

Beckman at least had to get into the top 150 on the money list to avoid the second stage of Q-school. He felt confident he could do that. That's when he popped a bigger question to his wife.

"I said, 'Do you think I can win?' And she said, 'I know you can win.' We didn't talk about it anymore,'' Beckman said. "I went right to the tournament, and I won.''

One minute he was gearing up for Q-school, the next minute his wife was on the phone making reservations at Kapalua.

"Nobody wants to go to tour school,'' Beckman said. "It's horrible.''

Beckman should know.

At the turn of the decade, he had the longest active streak on tour by making it through Q-school three years in a row. He failed in 2005, then made it a fourth time a year later.

It served him well Sunday at Grayhawk as he could feel himself surge into contention with every birdie in his round of 63. At one point in the middle of his back nine, he could feel his hands shaking.

"I had this putt one year in the second stage of tour school where my hands were shaking so bad,'' Beckman said. "I kept telling myself, 'This isn't as bad as tour school.' That relaxed me, and I made the putt. And then the tap-in for the win, I could almost feel my hands shaking off the club. But I was just going for it. And I think that's why I finished the way I did.''

Winning might be about the only guarantee of a card during this Fall Series.

Bob Tway tied for 11th to earn $102,500, and that only moved him up three spots to No. 132. Steve Allan was tied for the lead early in the final round and finished with a double bogey to tie for seventh. He made $150,625 and moved up eight spots to No. 131.

The top 125 keep their cards.

The way this Fall Series has gone, both are perfect candidates to win. And no one should be surprised if they do.

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