October 1, 2009

The Fall Series: A House of Horrors or Safety Net

For many, the PGA Tour's season effectively ended when Phil Mickelson won the Tour Championship and Tiger Woods hoisted the never-been-kissed FedEx Cup. Other than next week's President Cup, it's unlikely that we'll see many of the Tour's top golfers hitting shots in battle until after the new year, silly season possibly excluded.

But for players like David Duval, Stuart Appleby, Vaughn Taylor, Chris DiMarco, Corey Pavin and Rocco Mediate, the next few weeks will be a potential determining factor in their 2010 golfing plans. That's because all of those well-known PGA Tour veterans are outside of the Top 125 on the Tour's Money List, and the Fall Series will go a long way in determining whether they keep their Tour cards, or have to return to Q-School in order to win back the right to tee it up with the big boys on a regular basis.

A win in any of the five events starting with this week's Turning Stone Resort Championship would of course mean a two-year reprieve from the worries of maintaining their status on the Tour. A solid showing would be a big step towards climbing into the Top 125, while a poor showing means that they will need to head down to Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach for the Q-School Tour Final Stage. There, if anything can happen, it already has and probably will again. Anything is the key word here. Players have missed out on PGA Tour cards thanks to a ball popping out of cups after they've fallen into the hole, a ball hitting the green and wildly backspinning into a water hazard, drowning any chance of attaining a card, or even missed two foot putts doing the same thanks to rattled nerves and a shaky putter. On the other hand, there are too many heroic endings to mention. At Q School, it is one or the other but rarely a calm and straightforward event.

Fortunately, the Fall Series is in between their situations and the funhouse of Q-School, and with some good play, they can enjoy Christmas shopping rather than the Florida sunshine in December. For golf fans, while Tiger and Phil take the week off, there is another kind of drama at play, and perhaps one far more interesting - will some well-known winners from the past be able to find their form in time, or will they have to face all-comers to keep earning their paycheck on golf's biggest stage. Some will pass through the first gauntlet with some success. Others, we'll see on Golf Channel after Thanksgiving laboring over every shot as though it meant life or death. And that makes for good theatre.

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