Insider: High stakes in finale with cards on the line

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November 07, 2012
Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

It's the last week of school. Since the beginning of January, players have left a crisscross trail stretching from Hawaii to California, from Connecticut to Mississippi.

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They get their final grade on Sunday night in the form of a number. Anything on or inside of 125 is good; anything on or inside of 150 is acceptable.

Players ranking 151 or higher are going back to school.

Q-School.

Welcome to the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.

The top 125 money winners on the PGA TOUR are exempt in 2013; Nos. 126 to 150 have conditional status and should get in enough tournaments for a full schedule.

Billy Mayfair is this year's bubble boy. He's 125th on the money list. Mayfair has won five tournaments in his PGA TOUR career and more than $20 million. This week he'll be grinding over every shot, because every nickel will count on Sunday night.

Camilo Villegas is on the other end of the bubble. He's ranked 150th. Villegas has three tournament titles next to his name and close to $15 million in career earnings.

There are other familiar names between Mayfair and Villegas.

Tim Herron, Jerry Kelly and Justin Leonard rank 136, 137, 138, respectively. Together, that trio has combined to win 19 PGA TOUR events and $72 million.

Golf doesn't recognize pedigree during competition. Those fluffy bank accounts and bulging trophy cases will be nice during retirement but mean little this week.

That tension creates a different atmosphere. The major championships have tension but golfers are playing to place their name in the history book.

The tension this week comes from employment. You finish outside the top 150 on the money list and you might not have a place to compete next year.

That tension shows on Sunday night.

Just as it's dangerous for a player to write a victory speech on the 15th tee, it is equally dangerous for a golfer to think his work is done before the 18th hole is completed.

Focus tends to wonder and mood swings occur. That birdie on the 15th hole is met with unusually serious fist pumps while that double bogey on the 17th can end a player's dream.

There are so many individual stories being played out, an entire year of work compressed into four days of competition. This week might be the most mentally testing of the entire PGA TOUR schedule.

Players are constantly checking scoring and doing the projected math. You see a golfer celebrating a T22 like he just won THE PLAYERS Championship because it helped him slide inside the top 125.

Disney might be the happiest place on earth but this week it will be a grind for golfers.

Observations:

Hidden Mickey: Everywhere you look this week there is Mickey Mouse but as veterans of Walt Disney World know, there are also Hidden Mickeys. Engineers disguise the mouse ears in unusual places, such as the sixth green on the Magnolia Course. There's also a Mickey Mouse bunker on the 231- yard par 3.

The Palm: Players need to take advantage of their trip around The Palm Course. It is ripe for the picking. Players bludgeoned it last year with a scoring average of 69.572. The Magnolia gave up an average score of 71.367 in 2011. Those that tee off on The Palm in the first round have a real chance to gain some momentum.

Taking the seventh: The seventh on The Palm Course is one of the friendlier on TOUR.It ranked as the fourth easiest course last year. The 532-yard par 5 that everyone reaches in 2 played to a stroke average of .672 under par. If a player needs a shot of confidence, it could come at the seventh on The Palm.

Winner, winner: You need to go low this week. In the last dozen years, it's taken a minimum of 17 under in order to win. That's why I turn to the PGA TOUR's birdie machine: Brendon de Jonge. He has made 410 birdies this year, which leads all players. De Jonge has gone second, T4, T4 in his last three events, and I think he'll win this week.

.red Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, [click here].

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