By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AVONDALE, La. -- A year ago, Graham DeLaet didn't know if he'd ever have an opportunity like he has Sunday at TPC Louisiana.
DeLaet was still undergoing rehabilitation after back surgery the previous January. He'd originally injured his back playing hockey as a teenager back home in Canada and had learned to deal with the flare-ups. By the end of his rookie year on the PGA TOUR, though, sitting -- much less playing golf -- had become a challenge.
So DeLaet opted for a microdiscectomy to shave some of the bone that was pressing on the nerve. He played two tournaments last summer but quickly realized he wasn't ready so he waited until 2012 to return to the TOUR full-time.
And Sunday, 12 events into his comeback, DeLaet enters the final round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans with a chance to win his first PGA TOUR event. He vaulted up the leaderboard with a 66 on Saturday to finish at 15 under and sit two stokes behind Jason Dufner.
Turns out, DeLaet says he might be a better player because of the extended layoff.
"I feel I'm better mentally because of it because I know a bogey is not really the end of the world and I used to kind of have a little bit of a bad temper, have a bad swing or make a bad bogey," DeLaet said. "Now I realize that my health is really the most important thing and I think it's actually helped my golf game. It was obviously something I wouldn't want to go through again but kind of a blessing in disguise"
The 30-year-old picked up the fourth top-10 finish of his career earlier this year in Puerto Rico. His career-best is a tie for third as a rookie in Houston, but Sunday marks his first appearance in the final group in the final round.
DeLaet has quietly played solidly over the first three rounds at TPC Louisiana. He ranks fifth in driving distance, tied for 10th in greens in regulation and 13th in strokes-gained putting. He was tied for the lead late on the back nine Saturday and is pleased to see everything finally come together.
"First of all, it's exciting," DeLaet said. "It's the first time I've been in this position this deep into a tournament. I'm looking forward to that, the challenge. But I guess more than anything, (I want to) just kind of keep doing what I'm doing. I really feel that my caddy and I are working well together, picking good targets and just kind of working shots the right way. I'm excited about the opportunity and kind of keep doing what I'm doing."
DeLaet, who needs a win to make the field for THE PLAYERS Championship in two weeks, is playing the 2012 campaign on a major medical extension, with 26 events to earn $657,694. A win on Sunday, though, would make him exempt for the rest of the season, as well as the next two years.
"I know it's a cliche but that's what I'm going to try to focus on and not try to get too far ahead of myself," DeLaet said. "I've done that in the past with going into the final round with a chance or even, you know, a chance for a nice finish, ... and think about what a good finish can do for you and that kind thing. I'm going to kind of try to keep staying in the present and going from there."