By Rex Hoggard
This must be what PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem had in mind when he proposed the six- or seven-event swing that will follow the Tour Championship starting in 2007.
In marketing terms, the Southern Farm Bureau Classic was at least a stand-up triple, if not a home run. At least until the 71st hole. That’s when Loren Roberts dumped his tee shot into the murky wash adjacent to the 17th fairway. By that time, all those chase-for-the-card stories Finchem is counting on to carry the public’s attention after the Tour’s big finale had been told.
An almost endless line of contenders and an even longer line of potential money list shakeups gave way to a tailor-made, albeit anticlimactic, finish, just a single pair of earnings winners and an unlucky pair of losers.
Heath Slocum outlasted Roberts, Carl Pettersson, Joey Snyder III and everybody else who made the 36-hole cut on an Annandale Golf Club layout that doled out red numbers at about the same clip as a fifth-grade math teacher.
Slocum is making a career out of winning these types of dart-throwing affairs.
His first PGA Tour title was a 22-under effort last year in Tucson. That was just one better than Slocum’s torrid 21-under 267 total at the Southern Farm Bureau Nov. 6.
“This is really a tournament I have said from the beginning that I would like to win,” said Slocum, who played his final 36 bogey-free holes in 14 under to edge Pettersson and Roberts by two strokes.
“I kind of felt like I was due to have a really good week and it just worked out.”
Slocum grew up about 45 minutes southwest of Annandale while his father, Jack, was the club pro at Clear Creek Golf Course in Bovina, Miss. He was the feel-good champion for a tournament that was postponed four weeks by Hurricane Katrina, even though Slocum’s earnings position entering the week (67th) did little to create the money-list magic one expects from this event.
Nor did Roberts – who at 50 years old is, like fellow AARP member Jay Haas, a reluctant senior keen on splitting his time between the Champions Tour and PGA Tour – do much to spice the earnings pot.
Roberts began the week 126th on the money list, $7,291 behind bubble boy Briny Baird. His tie for second vaulted him well into the top 125 at No. 93.
Baird, however, posted just a single round in the 60s, tied for 58th and is bound for PGA Tour Q-School next month outside Orlando, Fla.
“You can feel it in the locker room,” said Roberts, who plans to play the Sony Open followed by two Champions Tour events in Hawaii before he decides which circuit he’ll focus on in 2006. “(On Friday) there were guys in there that haven’t been to Q-School for a long time and now they’re going back.”
Count Duffy Waldorf among that group headed to the fall classic.
The four-time PGA Tour winner was 150th in earnings when he teed off Thursday in Mississippi, but shot bookend 71s to drop to 153rd on the money list. It was the first time since 1990 Waldorf failed to maintain his exempt status.
At No. 128 on the money list, Michael Allen also had a chance to pull off a money-list maneuver but ballooned with a second-round 74 and missed the cut.
“It’s tough to make $600,000 (actually $591,829) and lose my job,” Allen said. “I used to lose my card making $60,000.”
Like Roberts, Scott Gutschewski made the most of the season’s final full-field event. The rookie was steady on the weekend (68-68) and earned enough ($31,500) to crack the top 150 and earn a free pass to final stage, as well as partial status on Tour in 2006.
Throughout the week, there was no shortage of money-list drama.
Three weeks after being disqualified for using a nonconforming club in Las Vegas, Kevin Stadler lurked only two strokes out of the lead through 54 holes (tied for fourth).
On Sunday, it was a balky putter, not a bent wedge, that cost the son of Champions Tour player Craig Stadler. Stadler’s final-round 73 dropped him into a tie for 31st and assured a return to Q-School.
By late Sunday afternoon, however, the money list race had all but sorted itself out, and with one poor swing by Roberts, the tournament had been decided.
Before his wayward tee shot on No. 17, Roberts seemed destined to become the second player to win on the Champions (Tradition) and PGA Tour in the same season (Craig Stadler, 2003). He began the final round a shot behind Snyder following a 6-under 66 in Round 3.
Following his near-flawless third round, Roberts said, “The key today is I made some putts,” which is akin to Bill Gates saying the secret to life is having money.
In the end, Slocum outbossed the “Boss of the Moss.” He was ninth in putts per round (26.8) and secured his second Tour title and the $540,000 top prize with nine one-putts in the final round.
“The putter, the last six or seven months, probably longer than that, I have kind of been struggling,” said Slocum, whose father, Jack, caddied for him. “It was just a combination of a lot of hard work. It has kind of paid off.”