LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Tag Ridings didn’t show signs of panic on the golf course, perhaps because he is lucky to be at Disney and because he posted a tidy round of 6-under 66 to finish one shot behind Scott Verplank going into the weekend.
He wasn’t frazzled by the mention of his precarious position — win or go back to Q-school.
Ridings has been in this position before.
Three years ago, he closed with a 64 in the final PGA Tour event of the year to earn enough money to finish at No. 125 on the money list, keeping his full card. The year after that, he was at No. 125 until a third-place finish in the second-to-last tournament bailed him out.
But this has been a year like no other.
Ridings has split time between the PGA Tour and the Nationwide Tour, often leaving one site to play at another. He played a Nationwide event last week trying to qualify for its Tour Championship. When that didn’t pan out, he flew home to Texas since he was the 14th alternate at Disney, only to learn a few days later that he made it in.
“It’s been a lot of travel,” he said.
The last two rounds of the tour season could turn an arduous trip into a magical one, and there wouldn’t be a better place for that to happen at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic across the street from the Magic Kingdom.
But it’s a long ride.
Verplank ran off six birdies over nine holes on the Magnolia Course before he slowed with nine straight pars for a second straight 66, putting him at 12-under 132 and one shot ahead of Ridings, Stephen Ames (63) and Ryan Armour (64). Eight players were another shot behind, including Justin Leonard and Sean O’Hair.
The field is so bunched, as it always is at Disney, that 89 players from the 132-man field made the cut.
Few of them have had a year like Ridings.
He was 149th on the money list last year, giving him conditional status. That means he had no guarantee when or where he would play, able to get in the tournaments that had room for him. This is his 18th start, which is about what he expected.
But he dabbled on the Nationwide Tour — the top 25 on that money list earn cards — and that led to some strange travel plans.
Ridings went to Knoxville, Tenn., for a Nationwide event in June, while on the alternate list for the PGA Tour stop in Hartford, Conn. Players must commit to either tour by 5 p.m. Wednesday, and he got a call with seconds to spare telling him he got in Hartford.
“Then she called me back two minutes later and said, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you, your tee time is 6:50 a.m. Are you sure you still want to come?”‘ Ridings said. “Because I’m pushing to try to get 15 starts out here — that’s minimum for membership — I drove into Hartford.”
He had a choice of two flights, one that got him in after midnight. Driving to his hotel, a traffic accident shut down the highway, so he took an exit through the seedy part of town.
“There’s this Lexus parked in the middle of the street and flashers are going,” he said. “Then I see this guy walking down the hill toward this car. He’s got diamonds in his teeth and the big chain, and he’s counting a wad full of cash. And he’s got something on his hip, and I’m not sure what it was because it was real dark, and I didn’t stop.”
How did he do that week?
“I missed the cut,” he said with a smile.
Imagine what a victory would mean — a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, not to mention the $810,000 check. Even finishing in second place by himself would allow him to skip the second stage of Q-school next week.
“At least I have a chance on the weekend,” he said. “But I’m not really thinking of anything besides just playing this tournament.”
There’s a lot on everyone’s mind at the CMN Classic, the final event of the PGA Tour season.
Leonard (67) and O’Hair (66) have a shot at finishing in the top 30 on the money list to qualify for the Masters. The stronger focus is on those trying to finish in the top 125 to keep their cards, or the top 150 to try to get into as many events as they can, which is what Ridings faced this year. It’s not the best scenario, but it’s better than nothing.
Ted Purdy was the bubble boy at No. 125, but not for long. He made a meaningless birdie on the last hole for a 73 and missed the cut by two shots, meaning he is assured of finishing out of the top 125. Purdy was 110th on the money list when the Fall Series began, played all seven events and still didn’t make it.
“I’m just tired,” he said. “It’s been a long seven weeks. I knew what I needed to do and just didn’t do it.”
Also going home is 16-year-old Tadd Fujikawa of Hawaii. He shot 72 for a 1-under 143, also missing by two shots.
But there was some tremendous play by those who desperately needed it. Duffy Waldorf, at No. 167 on the money list, was on the verge of going home until he birdied the last two holes to make the cut on the number. Glen Day is at No. 163, and he ran off a string of birdies late in the afternoon for a 67 to qualify for the weekend.
Verplank has no such worries, having won in Dallas earlier this year. He is 15th on the money list, played in the Presidents Cup, and already is assured of going to Kapalua and the four majors.
But he was at Q-school 10 years ago, and he believes blocking out distractions at any level is the key in golf.
“You can’t force any of that to happen,” he said. “So the guys that are struggling now to make the cut or to keep their card or to do whatever, that’s the biggest challenge they have.”