LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — All Roland Thatcher wanted to do this week was prepare for qualifying school. He even joked with his amateur partners that he was treating the PGA Tour finale as a practice round.
“Obviously,” Thatcher said, “the goal has changed.”
Thatcher eased through the toughest of the two courses in the second round of the Children’s Miracle Network Classic on Friday, shooting a 9-under 63 to take a four-shot lead over Chris Stroud and Brian Gay.
Thatcher began the week 179th on the money list, and needs to finish alone in second place to vault into the top 125 – the cutoff for full status next year. Nos. 126-150 will get conditional status.
“Pun intended, I wouldn’t mind being referred to as Cinderella for the week,” he said.
Players swap between the Magnolia and Palm courses in the first two rounds. Only the Magnolia Course, about 500 yards longer with more undulating greens, is used on the weekend.
Thatcher got a head start.
He hit 15 of 18 greens and had only 23 putts on the Magnolia. About the only hiccup in his round – and it wasn’t much of one – came when he missed a 17-foot putt for eagle on the 10th hole.
“There really wasn’t many opportunities for me to make much lower than what I did as far as the round went,” Thatcher said. “It was as low as it could go.”
Thatcher wasn’t the only one on the leaderboard fighting for a tour card.
Stroud was the first-round leader, three shots ahead of Thatcher, but with far less pressure. At 119th on money list, Stroud merely needed to avoid missing the cut to maintain full status. He followed up his good start with a wild second-round 70 complete with seven birdies and five bogeys.
Gay (65) is 59th on the money list.
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 in danger of falling out.
Not only can Stroud rest easy, he can challenge for a victory.
“I’m safe now,” Stroud said. “To be honest, in my position, I was still quite a bit nervous coming into this week. I told my wife, I said, ‘I’m still playing like I’m 135 on the money list.'”
There also was a scintillating subplot surfacing.
The $1 million Kodak Challenge is all even after Rickie Fowler birdied No. 17 on the Magnolia course to pull into a tie with Troy Merritt and Aaron Baddeley. The contest designates a hole at 30 tournaments and keeps score throughout the year.
“I think we’ll have a lot of fun on the weekend with it,” said Fowler, tied for 11th at 8 under after a 70.
For everyone else, they’re merely trying to catch a player who has everything at stake.
One of the longest of long shots at the season finale, Thatcher 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 be a tour card.
Thatcher, whose only top-10 finish this year came in New Orleans, has never had a 36-hole lead on tour and his best ever was a 61 at Mayakoba in 2008. But he still has a ways to go to complete the dream weekend.
Even if he tied for second, he’d be about $40,000 short of earning full status.
“I don’t think it was unreasonable for me to walk into the week and say I just want to catch something better for next week,” Thatcher said. “I think that was a realistic goal, getting four rounds in and getting some things working in the right direction to where when I tee it up next week at second stage, I was going to be as prepared as I was going to be.
“My goals have changed quite a bit,” he continued. “I’m hoping to have a nice long off season and start the year early next year.”