Every shot truly matters during The Finals
Players who fought their way inside the Top 50 after the Web.com Tour Championship
September 21, 2014
- September 21, 2014
- Chad Collins had to wait and see if he earned status next season on the PGA TOUR after a final round of even-par 70. (photo:PGA TOUR)
Chad Collins was far from at ease when he signed his scorecard after completing the final round of the Web.com Tour Championship on Sunday afternoon.
The 36-year-old Indiana native had just made bogey on two of his final four holes to post an even-par 70 at TPC Sawgrass' Dye’s Valley Course and finish the tournament at 6 under. Collins stood tied for ninth in the tournament, and he was projected to finish the Web.com Tour Finals at No. 51 in the Priority Ranking, one spot short of earning PGA TOUR status for 2014-15.
But in the next few seconds, Collins’ fortunes changed. Playing two groups behind, Adam Hadwin and Tyrone Van Aswegen both made bogey on the difficult par-4 17th, bumping Collins to T7 -- and to No. 49 in the projected Priority Ranking.
But if Hadwin and Van Aswegen both birdied 18 … well, Collins could fall back outside the top 50. It set up quite the waiting game over the next thirty minutes or so.
“I put myself in a good position going into the last four holes, which is what I wanted to do, but I kind of just scrambled around to make pars and get it in the house,” Collins said after exiting the scoring trailer on Sunday afternoon. “All in all, another even-par round, so hopefully it’s good enough. We’ll see.”
Collins maintained his T7 position at day’s end, and he regained TOUR status for 2014-15, finishing the Finals at No. 49 in the Priority Ranking. The Methodist University graduate entered the week at No. 86 in projected Priority, figuring he likely needed a top-10 finish at Dye’s Valley, and he was right.
When it was made official that Collins would be returning to TOUR, he took time to decompress and reflect on his afternoon-long odyssey.
“My gut feeling was that I was out,” said Collins of his mentality upon completing his final round. “It was a sick feeling. The whole afternoon was a roller coaster … it’s exciting, it’s nerve-wracking; it’s all that you can possibly imagine, all wrapped up in a tight little few minutes.
“Sometimes it can be satisfying; sometimes it can be heartbreaking. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t.”
Five other players fought their way inside the top 50 this week at Dye’s Valley – Eric Axley, Zac Blair, Sung Joon Park, Alex Prugh and Heath Slocum. As a result, all will play on TOUR in 2014-15.
Blair made the biggest and most surprising move of the week, finishing solo second after missing the cut in the first three Finals events. Park moved from 69th to 45th in Priority with a T11 finish, and Prugh moved from 54th to 41st after a T14.
After professing early in the week that he wasn’t going to care about whether he moved into the top 50 – “I’m going to lay it on the line every day, and I’m just going to go play golf – Slocum backed up his words with a smooth T4 that moved him from No. 71 to No. 33 in Priority.
Axley, on the other hand, had to play the waiting game for nearly four hours. The 40-year-old Tennessee native began the week at 52nd in projected Priority, and he knew he needed a strong final round upon entering Sunday in a tie for 43rd.
Axley played well, shooting 2-under 68 despite a missed five-foot putt for par on No. 18, and his projected position kept rotating inside and outside the top 50 for the entire afternoon. He didn’t monitor his position for the first hour or so after his round – he went back his hotel and started packing, preparing to head home – but he eventually decided to stick around and follow the coverage.
As the final groups made their way down the closing stretch, Axley was well-versed on what needed to happen.
“The first hour after I finished, I didn’t pay attention, and then I saw myself teetering from 51 to 49, back and forth,” Axley said. “I started watching then, and doing the math on what could help, what could hurt. It was pretty miserable.”
Axley ended up finishing the tournament in a tie for 25th, and his Finals earnings of $36,311.66 gave him the 50th and final TOUR card. He finished a mere $31.66 ahead of Roberto Castro for the final spot.
“Every shot counts,” Axley said. “It’s actually a good lesson. Over 16 rounds through the Finals, it’s one shot here, one shot there. You don’t really think about that midway through the second round of the first event, but it matters. It’s unreal.”
For the six players who worked their way inside the top 50 at Dye’s Valley, there were six who lost their chance to secure TOUR status for 2014-15. In addition to Castro, the players falling outside the top 50 were Vaughn Taylor, Patrick Rodgers, Greg Chalmers, Will Wilcox and Dicky Pride.
In addition to players who moved in and out of the top 50, there were those who did well to maintain their position. Nick Taylor entered the week at No. 37; he was in good position, but he figured there was some work to be done.
After a third-round 75, Taylor entered Sunday in a tie for 62nd, and his spot inside the top 50 was very much in limbo.
All he did was fire a 7-under 63 to move into a tie for 21st at 3 under and secure his TOUR status for the first time. Taylor’s caddie, Mike Darby, called it the best round he has seen under the circumstances, in his 10 years working in the profession.
Taylor’s playing partner for the final round, fellow Canadian Brad Fritsch, was impressed as well. Afterward, Fritsch tweeted, “Witnessed an all time pressure round by @ntaylorgolf59 for his PGA TOUR card. Amazing. Awesome.”
Witnessed an all time pressure round by @ntaylorgolf59 for his PGA Tour card. Amazing. Awesome.— Brad Fritsch (@BradFritsch) September 21, 2014
Taylor was congratulated on the 18th green by good friend and fellow Canadian Roger Sloan, who also secured TOUR status for the first time via the Web.com Tour Regular Season.
The day marked quite the memory for Taylor, a former standout college player at the University of Washington, who played mini-tours and PGA TOUR Canada for a few years before advancing through the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament this past winter.
“I don’t even know how it happened, to be honest,” Taylor said of his TOUR card-clinching 63, upon completing play before the final-round leaders teed off. “Everything obviously came together. My goal was to get to under par, so I was lucky enough to get past that. Hopefully it relieves a little stress this afternoon. I don’t have to scoreboard-watch.”
“I should be fine now. Last night, looking at it, it was out of my hands if I didn’t play well today. Luckily, I kind of forced their hands a bit … It’s definitely got to be the highlight (of my career).”
Another feel-good story of the week was Carlos Sainz Jr., who finished the Regular Season strong just to sneak inside the top 75 in money and qualify for the Finals.
Sainz could have secured his place in the top 50 at the Chiquita Classic two weeks ago, when he surged into a tie for the lead with four birdies and a hole-in-one in his first six holes of the final round.
But Sainz struggled from there, playing his final 12 holes in 6 over to fall into a tie for 12th. The former Mississippi State University player entered the Web.com Tour Championship at No. 45 in projected Priority, very much on the bubble. At the very least, he knew he needed to make the cut at Dye’s Valley.
Sainz made clutch pars on his final two holes of the second round to make the cut on the number, and he surged into good position with birdies on his first four holes of the third round. He finished the week in a tie for 31st at 1 under, and he sweated out the final few hours of competition to see where he would end up.
“I feel good about the week,” Sainz said after he signed his scorecard on Sunday. “I did all I could. I told myself that I’d do the best I could and see where the cards would fall. From the beginning of these Finals, leading up to today, that’s what I did, and I’m happy to be done. I had a good week. Obviously, I would’ve liked to have played a little better, but I’m still hoping that I have a chance to make it.”
When the cards fell, Sainz finished at No. 49 in Priority. He’ll play the TOUR for the first time in 2014-15.
“The waiting game is not always fun, but I’m really happy that it turned out the way I wanted it to,” Sainz said once the results were made final. “I’m really ecstatic. I’m happy to be in the position that I’m in.”
Forty-nine other Web.com Tour graduates would say the same.