HONOLULU -- The last time Roland Thatcher played a PGA TOUR event, he started the week 179th on the money list and in danger of losing his card. Not until the final putt dropped in the Children's Miracle Network Classic last November – the final event of the Fall Series -- did he secure his place inside the top 125 on the money list, thus avoiding q-school.
The nervous moments are still etched in his memory. He took a four-shot lead going into that Sunday at Disney but struggled on the back nine to fall off the pace. Facing a five-foot par putt on the last hole, Thatcher needed to make it to claim solo second and keep his card.
Mercifully, the putt dropped.
"I guarantee that experience took a year off my life," Thatcher said.
It also gave him motivation for this year, which is: "To not wait until the last moment, the last putt, the last tournament of the year," he said.
Evidently, he's serious about that. Thatcher's 5-under 65 on Saturday has him in contention going into the final day, with 36 holes set for Sunday. He’s two shots behind leader Shigeki Maruyama, with the afternoon wave still on the course.
Thatcher did have his struggles in the second round. After opening with consecutive birdies, he gave those strokes away with a double bogey on the 14th hole (his fifth of the day after starting his round off the 10th tee).
After that, he played bogey-free, with a birdie at the par-5 18th, then four birdies in his final nine holes.
"The swing has been at times really good and at times not so good," Thatcher said. "But I guess really the best thing I've been doing is placing the ball in the right spots. Misses have been easy up-and-downs or easy putts and I haven't really put too much stress on myself to this point."
Saturday's 65 is by far the best of his seven career rounds here. In his three previous starts at Waialae, he missed the cut twice.
"I'm a late-in-the-year guy," Thatcher said. "The fact that I'm even playing the weekend here is good news."
Still, he wants to use last November's near-disaster in a positive manner. Shooting 8 under through the first two rounds of the year is exactly what he needed.
"Instead of being dead exhausted at the end of the year," Thatcher said, "I think I had a little extra pep in my step heading into the offseason and actually didn't take any time off at all. I was in the gym and on the golf course on Tuesday after that Sunday round.
"I tried to hit this year with a little bit quicker start. So far, it's paying off." -- Mike McAllister/Heather Deranek