PGA TOUR Network correspondent Bob Stevens will be offering observations this week from the McGladrey Classic. Listen to PGA TOUR Live coverage on XM 146/SIRIUS 209 or right here at PGATOUR.COM.
Georgian Heath Slocum will be a very popular winner at the inaugural McGladrey Classic, but the biggest Sunday cheers were reserved for the guy who handed Slocum the trophy. Davis Love III, who brought the tournament to Sea Island, told us he was a little mad at himself for not shooting the 63 or 64 he'd hoped to on Sunday to steal his own tournament, but said he'd get over that. What he should be basking in when he finally gets over the sleep-deprivation of the last three weeks is the universal approval from everyone for everything that went on in the inaugural event. I can't tell you how many TOUR-types told me this was easily the best-run first-year event. And the players all echoed their approval of the course and the facilities at Sea Island. There's a reason a handful of pros call this small island home.
For many of the southern-based players, the McGladrey might be the swan song of the 2010 season. Brendon de Jonge told me this morning that his iron-man season that included 31 starts is over, unless he is still in the hunt for the Kodak Challenge (he's currently tied for 3rd, one shot back) and needs to play at Disneyworld for a chance at a million dollar bonus. Off of his third top-3 finish in the last two months, David Toms has very little left to prove, so he told me's also ready to shut things down and go live and die with his LSU Tigers, unless his kids decide that they need a trip to visit the Mouse in November.
Steve Lowery, on the other hand, might also play at Disney, but is otherwise waving adios to the PGA TOUR. The Alabaman who won three times on the TOUR including at Pebble Beach at age 47, says all of his friends have graduated to the Champions Tour and he might as well join them when he turns 50 on Wednesday. Lowery had better be taken seriously when joins the senior set, he's lost 25 pounds in anticipation of becoming a "rookie" again.
Third round leader Heath Slocum has been remarkably consistent all week, making only two bogeys, on his very first and his 51st holes, shooting 66 all three days. When I asked him if he'd sign for one more 66, he told me "you always sign for a 66," but also conceded that it might not be enough to keep any of the many pursuers from catching him. With only two bogeys this week, somebody's likely going to have to catch him, he won't give up much ground.
I saw Tom Pernice Jr. in the media center Wednesday, with reading glasses perched on the end of his nose reading the computer. He told me that's what happens when you turn 50. What also happens when you turn 50 is you get to play both the PGA TOUR and Champions Tour if you're good enough. Pernice already has a Champions Tour win late last year, but told our John Maginnes that he also wants to keep his TOUR card, something he failed to do last year, double-bogeying the final hole of q-school to miss his card by a shot. Hoping to avoid q-school this year, he chose to play at the McGladrey instead of the final Champions Tour major and has apparently made a great choice, in the top 10 with, as he said, "a chance on Sunday, all I wanted this week."
Here's a hint if you want to make friends with your favorite PGA TOUR pro. Learn which teams he roots for. It's usually easy to figure out on Saturdays when many players wear their favorite school's colors, even if it wasn't the school they went to. Today, Ben Curtis had a scarlet-colored striped shirt and grey slacks, rooting on his Buckeyes even though he went to Kent State. Oklahoma State alum Bo Van Pelt responded to a "wave-the-wheat" gesture from someone outside the ropes with a huge sigh of relief after his Cowboys escaped Louisiana-Lafayette Friday night. On the other hand, Texas-ex Justin Leonard, a proponent of burnt orange Saturdays, was wearing green today--because his Longhorns had the weekend off.
Remember how excited you got to get onto the course when you think you've solved a long-time swing problem? Rich Barcelo told me he and his coach have been looking at club placement issues for nearly four years, but a couple of weeks ago in Boise, getting ready to play a Nationwide event, they both saw the same long-time flaw of a weak left side at impact at the same "light-bulb" moment. Everything's been different since then. He's excited to come to the course, and why not. He's hitting more greens (third in the field through two rounds) and that confidence has carried over to his flat stick, where he's second-best with just 51 putts. Nobody near the top of the leaderboard needs a big finish more than Barcelo, who began the week 191st on the money list.
Tournament leader David Toms is dropping hints to us that the McGladrey Classic is it for him in 2010, win or lose. It's hunting season and LSU football season, but he couldn't resist one more shot at a course that rewards accurate iron play and a hot putter, like the site of his only top-10 finish all season, his near-win at the Wyndham Championship in the final regular season event. Toms is fourth-best in the field in hitting greens and second in converting them into birdies with a putter that now sports one of those SuperStroke putter grips made famous a couple years ago by K.J. Choi.
You might hear one of us on the PGA TOUR Network talking about a player whose putter is "on fire," but you rarely hear it from a player, particularly one as careful in his descriptions as Kevin Sutherland, but the Californian called his putting "blazing hot" in Round 2, when he made eight birdies and shot 64 despite what he considered a mediocre ball-striking day. Sometimes you anger the golf gods with confidence like that in your putter. We'll see if his putting holds up for the weekend.
But nobody had a crazier Round 2 than first round leader John Rollins, who missed two putts inside three feet, but made two from outside 30 feet, one of them for a par. He told me afterward he never felt comfortable from his first swing of the day and was fighting that swing, and therefore his emotions all afternoon through a four-birdie, five-bogey 71. He told me he was headed to the range hoping to find that one swing thought before dark that could turn Saturday into a repeat of Thursday, when he shot a seemingly effortless, bogey-free 63.
ROUND 1 Every player seems to have a specific reason for being at this year's McGladrey Classic. Some are more obvious than others. Troy Merritt's told us his brilliant 64 in the opening round was built on the fear of having to go back and "defending the one title you never want to defend", the championship of q-school. Merritt began the week 123rd on the money list, barely on the right side of keeping his card for 2011. By the way, Merritt, a proud Boise State alum, says there aren't any golf courses in the Boise area with blue turf.
First-round leader John Rollins, on the other hand, is 72nd on the money list, and while finishing in the top 70 will get him into a number of extra invitational tournaments next year, "Rocket" has a different goal driving him this week. After watching the Ryder Cup and having a talk with his wife, he told me he's decided to go all-out to make next year's President's Cup team. Despite three PGA TOUR wins, Rollins still hasn't played on a "national" team and has decided to pursue that goal in 2011. All his money earned in the Fall Series will count toward that goal.
Then there are players whose goals are simply to prepare for a better 2011. Steve Marino's a comfortable 62nd on the money list, but he's been disappointed with the second half of his season, and after sitting out since the Deutsche Bank Championship, told us he wants to improve his driving headed into next season. Ranked 133rd in driving accuracy at the beginning of the week, he obviously found something in the first round, following a 3-over par 38 on his front nine with a 6-under 29 on his second nine to shoot 67. Justin Leonard wants badly enough to improve his driving that he told me he's working with a new Nike driver this week, and a new Nike hybrid, all in anticipation of a better 2011, but after an opening 66, his timetable might have to be altered a little bit!