WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Q-School seems like the kind of environment where Rickie Fowler would thrive.
“Fearless” is a word often used to describe Fowler, because of his motocross background and his quick pace of play and even quicker swing, which leave little time to ponder the consequences of a mishit.
His play on the PGA Tour this year – earning nearly $600,000 in just three events since turning pro in September – is further evidence.
But early in Wednesday’s windy first round, Q-School was getting the best of Fowler. He was 4 over through 13 holes and well down the leaderboard.
“It wasn’t a good feeling,” Fowler said.
He’s in good shape now. After a poor start, he played his next 23 holes in 6 under. His 68 Thursday has him in a tie for 18th at 2-under 142.
Fowler made five birdies Thursday. His only bogey was a three-putt from 10 feet on No. 9.
“I don’t feel too stressed out,” Fowler said. “I know a lot of the guys here are trying to grind it out because everything for next year depends on this. It does in a way, but I’m trying to . . . have a little bit of fun.”
Fowler can accept unlimited PGA Tour sponsor exemptions next year because he earned enough to finish in the top 150 on the PGA Tour money list. But because he was not a PGA Tour member in 2009, he does not have the conditional status afforded to players who finish between Nos. 126-150 on the money list.
Q-School will determine Fowler’s PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour status. He said he will begin seeking sponsor exemptions next week.
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J.P. Hayes recovered from a first-round 74 to shoot 67. He moved up 39 spots on the leaderboard, into a tie for 13th. Thursday’s round could be considered just revenge on Q-School for Hayes.
His experience last year will go down in the tournament’s horror stories. Hayes mistakenly played a nonconforming ball for one hole at last year’s second stage, and had to disqualify himself for playing the prototype.
He called the situation “a bad nightmare” last year. He played on Tour this year with past-champion’s status and sponsor exemptions.
“(Q-School) has been good to me. I’ve had success at this tournament, but last year was a little crazy,” Hayes said.
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It’s been 21 years since Jeff Maggert last played PGA Tour Q-School. The biggest change?
“It used to take five hours to play and now it takes six,” Maggert said. “So obviously in 20 years golfers are an hour slower than they used to be.”
Maggert may lack Q-School experience, but he is faring well this week. He shot 67 Friday and is tied for third at 6 under par.
Maggert played the 1989 Q-School but failed to earn a PGA Tour card. He was the Hogan Tour’s player of the year in 1990, then kept his card until 2009, when he had to use a one-time exemption for being in the top 50 on the career money list.
Maggert finished 128th on this year’s money list. If he fails to earn a card this week, he still will be able to play 15-20 events because of his money-list standing.
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Troy Merritt shot 69 Thursday to lead for the second consecutive day. He is at 8-under 136, one shot ahead of Jay Williamson, who also shot a second-round 69.
Williamson retained his Tour card at last year’s Q-School and is on pace to repeat that feat. He also earned a PGA Tour card at the 2001 Q-School at Bear Lakes.
“Here I am again,” Williamson said. “It’s frustrating to me because I can’t quite just break through. And I’m hoping if can keep going here this week, … things can be a little bit different.”
Williamson won his second-stage qualifier this year, and is contention this week, which would make him undefeated for Q-School.
“I play really well when my back’s against the wall,” Williamson said.
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INSIDE THE CUT LINE (top 25 and ties)
• Billy Horschel, a member of the 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team, shot 70 and is tied for eighth at 5 under par.
• Barrett Jarosch was 7 under after nine holes Thursday, but had to settle for a 6-under 66. Jarosch is also tied for eighth.
• Tom Pernice Jr., who won this year on the Champions Tour, shot a second consecutive 71 and is tied for 18th.
• Kris Blanks shot 77-65, including an eagle 2 on No. 18 at the Links Course, his final hole of the day. It was his second eagle of the day, and helped him jump more than 100 spots and into a tie for 18th.
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OUTSIDE THE CUT LINE
• David Duval shot 73 Thursday to fall from T-11 to T-39. Tim Herron shot 70, and is also T-39 at even par.
• Todd Fischer’s 67 was a 10-shot improvement from his first round. It moved him up almost 100 spots on the leaderboard, into a tie for 39th.
• Cameron Tringale shot 74 Thursday to fall from T-6 to T-39.
• Shaun Micheel, the 2003 PGA champ, shot 69 to move into a tie for 54th at 1 over par.
• Ray Beaufils’ 67 was 12 shots better than his opening round, and put him in a tie for 68th at 2 over par. Beaufils’ turnaround wasn’t the largest of the week, though. Scott Gutschewski is T-100 after shooting 81-67.
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