Leonard among three tied for Disney lead
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Justin Leonard described his round Friday at Disney as a “fun, easy day,” and it was every bit of that. He had a 9-under 63 for his lowest round of the year, putting him in a tie for the lead with Henrik Stenson and Bio Kim at the Children's Miracle Network Classic.
It was only after his round that he felt as though he was on Thunder Mountain without ever leaving the golf course.
Leonard is at No. 144 on the PGA Tour money list and not the least bit worried about keeping his card because he already is exempt through 2012. Because of a misprint in the media guide, reporters didn't understand how he was exempt, leading to confusion — and a brief spell of panic for Leonard — while tour officials researched the regulations to confirm the answer.
By the time he headed for the Magic Kingdom for the parade with his four children, all was well. The leaders were at 12-under 132, two shots clear of Nick O'Hern. Gary Woodland was in the group at 9-under 135.
The money list is magic at Disney.
Webb Simpson and Luke Donald are battling for the money title, and they both played the opening two rounds at 7-under 137, meaning they will be paired again Saturday. Simpson has a $363,029 lead, so the third round looms large for Donald.
The stress is at the bottom. The players at Nos. 123, 124 and 125 — D.J. Trahan, Bobby Gates and James Driscoll — all made the cut.
Kim is at No. 168 and will have to finish no worse than second to avoid Q-school. Stenson, who had a 64 on the Palm Course, is at No. 180 but is exempt through 2014 from winning The Players Championship. Leonard also has no concern about next year.
“I did call the tour a couple months ago and asked about my status. I'm exempt for next year, so I'm not playing with that kind of pressure,” Leonard said in his press conference. “I don't know how, I just am. I gave the same look to the telephone. 'How is this guy still exempt?'”
It was a reasonable question, for his exempt status on his biography page showed him exempt through his position on the money list in 2010. In the exempt ranking at the front of the media guide, however, it shows him in the winner's category.
The answer took time. Andy Pazder, the chief of operations, was out of the state on business and did not have immediate access to the records. It required an official at Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters to go through each year's regulations to provide the correct answer. That took time, and a tour official at Disney didn't want to keep Leonard waiting. He told him the staff was checking on it.
“Are you going to eat?” media official Mark Stevens said to him.
“I already ate,” Leonard replied. “I think I'm going to go throw up.”
As it turned out, Leonard had the correct information all along. His British Open win in 1997 came with a 10-year exemption. Starting in 2003, the tour began adding to the 10-year exemption with every win. Leonard won five times after 2003, thus he is exempt through 2012.
Leonard is not exempt for the Tournament of Champions in Kapalua to start next year, and that's something he now has a chance to remedy at Disney. Over the last few months, he has gone to Morris Pickens to develop some practice strategies, and Dave Stockton Jr. for help getting back to his natural putting stroke.
It has paid off so far at Disney, where he took advantage on the Palm for a bogey-free round of 63.
Kim had a 65 on the tougher Magnolia Course, and his spot on the leaderboard was far more critical.
“I'm not afraid of Q-school, because I'm only 21 and I've got a lot of things to do and a lot of tournaments to do,” Kim said.
Far more fearful was undergoing heart surgery in his native South Korea while the FedEx Cup playoffs were going on. He previously had the surgery for an irregular heartbeat when he was 11, and knew he was having a problem when he nearly fainted at the Wyndham Championship in August.
He was back to playing golf before long, and now is hopeful of a big week.
Simpson had a bogey on the final hole at Magnolia for a 69, while Donald battled a sinus infection and a lack of energy on his way to a 71 as they at least stayed in the game. Their battle was summed up on the 12th hole, when Donald stuffed his tee shot into 2 feet, and Simpson followed with a shot into 3 feet. Both made birdie.
“I think both of us are in the same mindset and trying to win the golf tournament,” Simpson said. “We want to beat not only each other, but we want to beat the field. I feel that's just natural as competitors. He's got a little further to go. All it takes is a good weekend, and he would be right there.”
Donald can finish no worse than a two-way tie for second, provided Simpson finishes down the leaderboard. It's a tall order for Donald, the No. 1 player in the world.
“I'm going to need to go low on the weekend,” Donald said.
That won't be the case for a pair of British Open champions, David Duval and Ben Curtis, who both missed the cut. Duval was outside the top 150 on the money list, meaning he would have to go through two stages of Q-school to get his card back. Having gone through Q-school last year, the former world No. 1 is likely to take a year relying on sponsor exemptions and his status as a past champion.
Curtis was at No. 149 and likely to fall out of the top 150. Curtis still has the option of playing the European Tour, where he is exempt, while also playing the PGA Tour.
Meanwhile, four players from the Champions Tour all made the cut.
Michael Allen, whose only win was the Senior PGA Championship two years ago, had a 66 and was in the group at 9-under 135. Others playing the weekend are Mark Calcavecchia, Tom Pernice Jr. and Tom Lehman.
Leonard (63) and Stenson (64) played on the easier Palm course, while Kim had a 65 on the Magnolia.