5 Things: Season finale, a lucrative day to remember

Troy Merritt hugs his wife Courtney after winning the Kodak Challenge in a playoff.

Troy Merritt hugs his wife Courtney after winning the Kodak Challenge in a playoff.

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Smiles were all around the Magnolia Course at Disney World

Dreams do come true at Disney – even for grown-ups.

During a dizzying hour-long wait, Troy Merritt bounced from inside the top 125 on the money list to outside, then back inside again. So when it came time to tee it up once more for a crack at $1 million, it proved a timely reprieve from one of the sport’s biggest stress-fests.

In a bizarre finish to the year’s final PGA Tour event, Merritt, Rickie Fowler and Aaron Baddeley went back out to the 17th hole on the Magnolia Course at Disney World to determine the winner of the Kodak Challenge. The playoff for the payoff didn’t last long: Merritt stuck a pitching wedge to 18 inches and tapped in for birdie, claiming the $1 million bonus awarded to the player who posts the best cumulative score on 18 out of 30 predetermined holes from various Tour events

So, what now?

“Well, the first thing I’m going to do is buy my wife a new car,” Merritt said. (In the coming days, Courtney Merritt will trade in her Toyota Corolla for a Lexus SUV.) And while the monetary bump was nice, it paled in comparison to the security of wrapping up a PGA Tour card for 2011.

“I wouldn’t say it was a stress-free day,” said Merritt, 25. “But it certainly was a nice ending.”

Merritt shot a final-round 67 Sunday at Disney, finishing in a tie for 30th, but the Tour rookie spent the afternoon wondering whether that would be enough to retain full playing privileges for next season. He played his final hole projected at No. 126, before Johnson Wagner double-bogeyed 16.

“I think the most nervous I was after my round was just sitting in the chair making sure I didn’t do anything foolish on camera,” Merritt said.

••••••••••••••

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Lorena Ochoa (right) with husband and caddie Andres Conesa

Lorena Ochoa stood on the second tee box and rested her chin ever so briefly on the shoulder of her caddie. In the fairway, she gave him a love pat as they discussed her options for the approach.

AeroMexico CEO Andres Conesa, the only caddie this week who needed his own security detail, was hard at work for his wife, who happens to be a national icon in Mexico. Ochoa went on to birdie the second hole from 15 feet, and it looked as if she might get off to the strong start she talked about.

Unfortunately, rust prevailed.

“It was really difficult for me,” said Ochoa, who opened the Lorena Ochoa Invitational on Nov. 11 with a 2-over 74. “I didn’t have any control on my shots.”

Still, one gets the impression that any time Ochoa can spend the day walking alongside her husband, it’s a good day. When she got up and down out of the bunker on the fourth hole, the newlyweds shared a fist bump.

It’s unknown if they were celebrating her par or Conesa’s raking skills.

“I was very impressed,” said Ochoa, who has worked with Conesa on his looping etiquette for the last several months. “He was taking care of his, how do you say . . . his duties.”

Ochoa concluded the limited-field event tied for 25th, 19 shots back from victor In-Kyung Kim.

••••••••••••••

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Y.E. Yang

The future of Y.E. Yang’s relationship with American coach Brian Mogg may be on rocky terms.

Yang credited Mogg with being a significant factor behind Yang’s U.S. PGA Championship victory last year. But after a letdown year, Yang may be looking elsewhere for guidance. The Texas-based Korean compiled just six top-25s in 2010 on the U.S. PGA Tour; last year he had 12, with two victories.

“We haven’t contacted each other recently,” Yang said Saturday at the Singapore Open, where he tied for 16th. “We are both reconsidering our relationship. It’s up in the air. We’ll make a decision early next year.’’

But 2010 wasn’t without success. He captured two OneAsia titles and leads the Order of Merit.

••••••••••••••

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Roland Thatcher is all smiles after realizing he placed solo second and retained his PGA Tour card.

Only on the final day of the PGA Tour season can the guy who began the day with a four-shot lead, who threw away three shots down the stretch, who shook in a par putt to finish a sloppy second, leave Disney World with the widest grin.

Roland Churchill Thatcher IV approached this Children’s Miracle Network Classic as a tuneup for the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School, which begins Tuesday in Houston. Four improbable rounds altered those travel plans, and now, as winter approaches, Thatcher knows what to do when that refunded $5,000 Q-School check arrives in the mail.

“I’m going to put that money aside for something special,” Thatcher, 33, said, smiling.

With a nervy 5-foot par putt on the 72nd hole, Thatcher finished solo second, three shots behind winner Robert Garrigus, to earn $507,600 and become one of only three players to move inside the top 125 (No. 122) in the final event of the season. It was a relieving end to a nerve-racking day, the kind, Thatcher said, that “only happens in the last event of the year.”

And so a player who entered the week at No. 179 on the money list, with only one top-10 finish in 2010, clinched his Tour card for another season. Asked where this kind of play came from, Thatcher hadn’t an answer.

“No clue,” he shrugged. “I wish it was something that I could identify and lock into, but I rolled the putter better than I have all year. Certain things fell into place.”

Only on the final day of the season.

••••••••••••••

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Colin Nel of South Africa

After a slow start to his season, 2010 Sunshine Tour rookie Colin Nel thought it couldn’t get worse. That was until his car was stolen with his clubs in the back seat on the night before leaving for an October tournament.

He borrowed a mixed bag of clubs from fellow professionals and made to the Vodacom Business Origins of Golf Final, where he subsequently missed the cut. He missed the next cut at the Suncoast Classic, too.

But then things started to click – still with his borrowed set.

Over the next three weeks, the South African has finished 33rd (Platinum Classic), T-16 (Nashua Masters) and 18th (BMG Classic).

He has yet to put new clubs in his bag. Why mess with success?

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