The PGA Tour's Fall Series is developing a cult following even among those playing in it — primary among them rookies, veterans and others trying to finish the year among the top 125 on the Tour money list, and thus secure full playing status for 2011.
"This Fall Series never ceases to amaze me," said Jay Williamson, the 43-year-old journeyman, earlier this week. "It's just so freaking competitive out here. We've played some awesome golf courses. Unfortunately I have not played awesome golf."
Languishing at 166th on the money list, Williamson needs a big performance at this week's Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (a.k.a. Vegas) or the season-ending Children's Miracle Network Classic, Nov. 11-14. That's partly why he was playing an early practice round at TPC Summerlin on Monday.
Players have just two tournaments, eight rounds, 144 holes, to prove they belong on Tour next year. At least Williamson and others deep down the money list don't have to look far for inspiration. Rocco Mediate, 47, was at 182nd in earnings heading into last week, but holed out from everywhere but the port-o-let and won the Frys.com Open, giving himself a two-year exemption.
All it takes is four good days.
In addition to those scrambling to keep their jobs, Vegas will feature several players who are plenty secure for next season, including Hunter Mahan, Charley Hoffman, Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim, Nick Watney and Mediate himself.
The affable 2008 U.S. Open runner-up to Tiger Woods, Mediate had sent in his registration for the Tour qualifying tournament, but now has gone from perspiration to inspiration. Williamson, who figures he's gone six for seven at Q school, also has sent in his paperwork for golf's bar exam, but like so many others in Vegas he hopes he won't have to go. The new rallying cry of the Tour's bottom-feeders: Make like Mediate.
Just $14,220 separates No. 125 Woody Austin and No. 126 Aron Price. Others on the bubble include Robert Garrigus (122), Scott Piercy (132), Will MacKenzie (146) and Johnson Wagner (152). Troy Merritt, last year's Q-school winner, looked all set for next year until he shot a final-round 75 at the McGladrey, but picked himself up with a T18 at the Frys.com and went from 126 to 118. He would seem to be safe, but you never know.
"I'm really trying not to get into that [obsession over the money list] because I've been in this position so much," Williamson said. "It depends on how you look at it. If you look at this as an opportunity, you're better off. The reason it's such a nerve-wracking deal is there's such a difference between this tour and anywhere else right now. That's what really creates the challenge mentally at this time of the year.
"Rocco gives anybody that's been out here a while some inspiration," he added. "I love his attitude. I'm a realist, and that's been a strike against me. Rocco is a dreamer. I need to be more of a dreamer and believe that I can go out and do what he did."
In other action this week …
• Hunter Haas, who already has won two Nationwide tournaments sponsored by grocery stores this year (Albertsons Boise Open, Price Cutter Charity Championship), looks to make it three at the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open presented by Planters at TPC Sawgrass/Dye Valley Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
This week marks the first time the Nationwide has visited Sawgrass and PGA Tour headquarters, and the final full-field tournament of the year on the developmental circuit. It's the last chance for players to get into the top 60 on the money list and into next week's Nationwide Tour Championship in Charleston, S.C.
Jason Gore, who vaulted from 124th to 39th on the Nationwide money list with his victory at last week's Miccosukee Championship, broke the record for career Nationwide victories with seven. Sean Murphy, Matt Gogel and Kevin Johnson have three apiece.
• The top five players in the Rolex Rankings headline the inaugural Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia at par-71, 6,182-yard Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club.
It will be the first time in more than a month that the five — Ai Miyazato, Cristie Kerr, Jiyai Shin, Yani Tseng and Suzann Pettersen — have gone head-to-head.
The top three of those five have played hot-potato with the top ranking since Lorena Ochoa retired at age 28 in May, and with five tournaments remaining on the schedule, all five players have a chance to finish the year at No. 1.
Michelle Wie and Beatriz Recari, a first-time winner last week, also will play.
• Look out, Freddy and Bernie — 14-time PGA Tour winner, two-time Ryder Cupper and four-time Presidents Cupper Kenny Perry makes his Champions tour debut at the Administaff Small Business Classic at the Woodlands C.C. in Houston.
Steve Lowery also will make his 50-and-over debut.
Couples went to college in Houston and John Cook is the defending Administaff champion, but Langer should feel most at home. He won the tournament in '07 and '08, tied for fourth place last year, and is 45 under par in his nine competitive rounds.
Ian Baker Finch, the 1991 British Open champion who lost his game soon thereafter, turns 50 on Sunday and plans to play some on the 50-and-over circuit.
• Jose Maria Olazabal, 44, attempts to return from rheumatism and arthritis while Sergio Garcia, who hasn't played since the PGA Championship in August, comes back from a sabbatical and a stint as a Ryder Cup vice-captain at the Castello Masters Costa Azahar at Club de Campo del Mediterraneo in Valencia, Spain.
• Two 13-year-olds and a woman who is better known as the other half of her Ryder Cup playing boyfriend will be in the field at the Women's World Amateur Team Championship at Olivos Golf Club and Buenos Aires Golf Club in Argentina.
Anna Roscio, who as the longtime girlfriend of Edoardo Molinari attended the Ryder Cup in Wales earlier this month, will represent Italy in the 53-team tournament that also will include first-time participants Guam, Nigeria, Slovenia and the United Republic of Tanzania. The tournament runs through Saturday.
The U.S., which has 13 victories in the event but none since 1998, will be represented by Danielle Kang, the U.S. Women's Amateur champion from Thousand Oaks, Calif., who turns 18 this week, and Jessica Korda of Bradenton, Fla.