LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Scott Verplank and Tag Ridings are separated by one shot atop the leaderboard at Disney and by more than $2.76 million in season earnings. One is playing out the season and enjoying time with his family, the other is fighting for a job.
That could be one difference that separates a bunched leaderboard of haves and have-nots going into the weekend at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic.
Verplank made enough birdies on his first nine holes Friday on the Magnolia Course that he wasn’t too bothered by closing with nine straight pars, giving him a second straight 6-under 66 and a one-shot lead over Ridings, Stephen Ames and Ryan Armour.
“I got out of rhythm just a little bit and kind of struggled to find it,” said Verplank, who was at 12-under 132. “But I got on such a nice roll in the first nine holes that I didn’t just kill myself by making a bunch of pars.”
Verplank already has won this year at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship. He is 15th on the money list, played in the Presidents Cup, has qualified for the four majors next year and has few worries across the street from the Magic Kingdom.
Not so for Ridings, who has split time playing the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour this year and came into the final event of the season at No. 210 on the money list. The only way to keep his card is to win, something he has never done. If he were to finish in second place alone, all that would do is allow him to skip the second stage of Q-school.
If he has no worries, it’s because he is resigned to his predicament.
“I’m not really thinking of anything besides just playing this tournament,” he said.
Ames, who captured The Players Championship last year, is playing because it’s cold in Calgary and the courses have been closed for the last month. He didn’t want four months off — notwithstanding the Skins Game later this month — and didn’t show much rust in running off seven straight birdies on the Palm Course before a three-putt bogey at the end put him at 63.
Armour, who is safe at No. 119 on the money list, shot a 64 on the Palm.
The group at 10-under 134 included Justin Leonard (67), Sean O’Hair (66) and first-round leader J.P. Hayes (69). The first two are trying to get in the Masters, while Hayes needed a good week at No. 123 on the money list.
It has been 10 years since Verplank had to endure Q-school, when he rode a cart because Casey Martin was allowed to ride. But he believes the key to winning is blocking out the perks that come with it, whether it’s a tour card or a trip to the Masters.
“If you let all that stuff distract you, it makes it that much harder,” he said. “One of keys to getting comfortable out here and playing good over an extended period of time is to learn how to block all that out and just play. You can’t force any of that to happen. 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.”
Not that Verplank is immune from that.
“The challenge for me is not to get ahead or think too much about winning,” he said.
A rare day of sunshine brought 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.
It seems like everyone will keep playing. The field is so bunched that 89 players made the cut.
That doesn’t include Ted Purdy, who was at No. 125 on the money list. He made a meaningless birdie on the last hole, but is assured of finishing outside the top 125 and will have to go to Q-school to try to regain full status. 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 — and facing the longest trip — is 16-year-old Tadd Fujikawa of Hawaii. He shot 72 for a 1-under 143, missing by two shots.
Ridings didn’t show the frazzled nerves of someone whose job was on the line.
Then again, this is nothing new for him.
In 2004, he came to final PGA Tour event of the year at No. 190 on the money list, made seven birdies over the last 10 holes and shot 64 to tie for 11th, earning just enough money to finish No. 125 on the money list. A year later, he was at No. 125 with two events left when he tied for third in Tampa to secure his card. And last year, he made the cut on the number to salvage 149th on the money list and conditional status.
He wasn’t even sure he would get into Disney as the 14th alternate, but he received a call on Tuesday that he was up to second alternate and was in the tournament when he arrived.
Add all that together, and he’s got nothing to lose.
“I’m not quite in the same position as I have been in the last couple of years,” Ridings said. “That’s why I’m just focused on one tournament. I’m not worried about that other stuff. I play good on the weekend, I’ll get paid for it, and I’ll be glad to take a check.”
DIVOTS: The PGA Tour has the third-strongest field in golf this week. According to the Official World Golf Ranking, the strongest field is the Volvo Masters on the European Tour, with 46 points going to the winner. Next up is the Singapore Open in Asia, with Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh in the field. The winner there gets 40 points. The winner at Disney gets 36 points, making it the second-strongest field of the Fall Series behind the Fry’s Electronics Open outside Phoenix.