Insider: Wood's win worth the wait in fewer worries

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Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
Willie Wood ended a victory drought of 16 years at the Dick's Sporting Goods Open.
August 21, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

Willie Wood played the cards he was dealt and came up aces. Now he doesn't have to worry about reshuffles, provisional shuffles and other distractions, like flights with 5:40 a.m. departure times.

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So when Wood gets to this week's Boeing Classic, he won't be sleepless in Seattle and he won't be the fourth alternate to get into the field. Last week's victory at the Dick's Sporting Goods Open changed all that.

Wood, a Monday qualifier, upset Michael Allen, a two-time winner this year, in a playoff at En-Joie Golf Course. The win earned Wood an immediate exemption on the Champions Tour for one year and also earned him a two-year exemption into the season opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai.

It was a long time coming for Wood, who ended a victory drought of 16 years since winning the PGA TOUR's 1996 Deposit Guaranty Classic. He had gone 189 starts on the PGA TOUR, 105 events on the Web.com Tour and 15 more on the Champions Tour since the victory in Mississippi.

Wood, 51, became the first Monday qualifier to win on the Champions Tour since Rod Spittle at the 2010 AT&T Championship. Spittle has gone on to enjoy a respectable stay on the Champions Tour.

Before Sunday's dramatic finish -- Wood made a 35-foot putt for birdie on the 18th hole to force the playoff - he was the fourth alternate in the provisional reshuffle to get into the field for the Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. Wood had it all figured out because for Monday qualifiers, those sorts of mental meanderings are a fact of life.

"I was going to probably pass Jeff Freeman, I might pass Jeff Hart, but Dick Mast is ahead of me," Wood said. "There are a lot of what ifs. So finally I just decided to play golf and stop worrying about that, and if I finish top 10, that would get me in."

Even better, he got in by winning.

"I'm absolutely thrilled for Willie," Allen said. "The guy's been out here hanging on the fringe and trying to get in, and finally winning I think is just fantastic. I'm thoroughly proud and happy for him."

There has been nothing indifferent about Wood's preparations for the Champions Tour.

"I've worked very, very hard to get back to playing good again," Wood said. "I knew I was playing good coming in. I've played fairly well this year in the tournaments that I've played in. This is my eighth tournament, I think I was 52nd on the Money List coming in. My tournament average was $25,000 a week, which I was happy with. It's paying the bills, but I wanted more."

With his $270,000 payday at Dick's, Wood has won $440,817 in eight events on the Champions Tour to jump up to No. 28 on the Money List. His two best finishes before last week were in majors -- he tied for 12th in both the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship and the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid.

"I love playing with these guys out here because they're all friends of mine and it's such a great friendly atmosphere compared to the PGA TOUR," Wood said. "I played in a TOUR event in July down in Jackson, Miss., and it was with kids younger than my sons, and it wasn't the same. I wanted to be here on this Tour playing in tournaments."

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In the PGA TOUR's True South Classic in July, Wood tied for 18th. He opened with a 66 and posted three rounds in the 60s to win $42,000.

Wood has been looking forward to the Champions Tour for a long time but getting the opportunity to play with his old friends hasn't been easy. He played regularly and well on the Web.com Tour and its predecessors, where making cuts is easier than making expenses.

"When you're in your late 40s, I'm trying to compete against kids that are really good and half my age," Wood said. "It's almost like it's not a fair fight."

But the lure of the Champions Tour helped him persevere and, ultimately, triumph. The Web.com Tour gave him somewhere to play and compete in preparation for the Champions Tour.

"People asked me, 'Are you going to go play the (Web.com Tour)?' Heck, no, I don't want a piece of those guys," Wood said.

The victory means there will be more order to Wood's life.

"Now I can go to tournaments on Tuesday, and play my practice rounds, the pro-am day, see the golf course," he said. "It's really, really big. We have a tournament in Hawaii coming up that I knew I was going to be close to getting in to. Now I can make a plane reservation, now I can make a hotel reservation. It's a big relief, it really is.

"There are quite a few tournaments that I have been wanting to play in, tried hard to get sponsor exemptions this year and they just didn't work out, and now I can play in them."

Wood had 23 top 10 finishes during his PGA TOUR career, including victory at the Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic and a playoff loss to Joey Sindelar at the 1990 Hardee's Golf Classic. But he learned an important lesson in that setback.

"My only other playoff on the PGA TOUR was in the Hardee's Classic," Wood said. "I remember going to the tee there and wasn't ready to play the playoff. I was too excited about I got second place wrapped up, but I was young. When you get in a playoff, the tournament is not over until the playoff is over, and I kept my composure (En-Joie), kept my focus on trying to put the ball in the fairway and win the playoff. That's how it worked out."

Champions Tour Insider Vartan Kupelian is a freelance contributor for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR. He can be reached at [golfstix@aol.com]

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