LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Roland Thatcher was at home a year ago after missing the cut at Disney, stressfully updating the live money list on his computer to see if he would finish high enough to keep his PGA Tour card.
Things will be up to him Sunday.
Thatcher is on his way to an improbable bid to keep his card, shooting a 2-under 70 on Saturday in the Children’s Miracle Network Classic to take a four-stroke lead over Chris Stroud into the final round. Five others are within five strokes of Thatcher.
“In a way, I’m in a much better situation this year because I control my own destiny, and that’s a quality thing,” Thatcher said. “And I have a chance to win a tournament, which is huge.”
No pressure or anything: Thatcher will only be playing for his job.
He needs a victory or solo second-place finish to vault into the top 125 – the cutoff for full status – to retain his card. Nos. 126-150 will get partial status.
Quite a different scenario than last year.
Thatcher began a year ago at Disney at 119th in earnings. He missed the cut and couldn’t stop watching the tour’s website at home, with his name bouncing in and out of the top 125 several times during the live projections.
An anxiety-filled day, for sure.
“My wife left the house. She actually called my best friend at the time to come over and basically baby-sit me,” said Thatcher, who eventually finished 121st to keep his card. “She couldn’t deal with it anymore. I didn’t blame her either. That was probably not the best way to handle it.”
Only a disastrous finish kept him from being able to relax more this Sunday.
Thatcher had a six-shot lead when hit his approach on the 17th hole way right of the green, the ball landed just short of the water and was stuck in the mud. His right foot almost knee-high in the water, Thatcher chipped out and the ball caromed off a camera tower. He two-putted for a double-bogey, then bogeyed No. 18 to finish at 18 under.
“It’s nice to be closer than I was,” said Stroud, who also shot a 70. “I was trying to not pay too much attention to it, but he was running away with the tournament.”
Thatcher isn’t the only one fighting for a tour card.
Three others who began barely inside the top 125 – Joe Durant (120), Woody Austin (123) and Michael Allen (124) – missed the cut. Durant should be safe, but Austin and Allen are projected to fall out.
It will be an anxiety-filled day for a handful of others still playing Sunday. The projected money list can fluctuate by the second, and there are countless scenarios for some to keep their cards.
“Third or better by myself, obviously in any of those orders, and that’ll get me to next year,” said Brett Wetterich, who shot a 68 and was tied for third – five strokes back. Wetterich began the week 159th on the money list but also has a medical exemption that could get him into the first tournament next year and give another chance to earn enough.
For everyone in the field, Thatcher’s history should at least provide some comfort.
He only needed to make par on the final hole in the final round of qualifying school in 2001 in West Palm Beach. Instead, his approach shot bounced off the cart path and onto the clubhouse roof and missed out.
Even in the big leagues, Thatcher has often been disappointing.
He has missed far more cuts (64) than he’s made (45) on the PGA Tour. Thatcher’s only top-10 finish this year came in New Orleans, and he would have needed an outright win this week to retain his card if it wasn’t for that.
Thatcher was such a long shot at Disney he already signed up for the second stage of qualifying school near Houston next week. All Disney was supposed to provide was some momentum.
Now it might deliver a tour card.
“At least this week, regardless of what happens Sunday, I’m in charge of it,” Thrasher said. “I don’t need to be sitting there. It’s a very uncomfortable situation to be really rooting against your friends is what it really comes down to. As crass as that sounds, that’s what I was doing last year.
“And this year all I need to be doing is rooting for me.”