LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Laughing and swapping stories with Rory Sabbatini, Robert Garrigus looked loose and relaxed on the driving range Thursday morning before teeing off in the opening round of the Children’s Miracle Network Classic. He kept that cool on the golf course, firing a 4-under 68 to leave himself six shots behind Chris Stroud. But try as he might, it won’t be his sense of calm that Garrigus will be remembered for this year.
Think back to June, when the Idaho native carried a three-shot lead into the 72nd hole of the St. Jude Classic. Even after yanking his tee shot left into the hazard, Garrigus needed only to make double bogey to claim his first PGA Tour win and ensure his job security for the next two years. Instead, he crumbled and spiraled out of control. He struck a tree with his third shot, punched out with his fourth, put it on the green and two-putted for a triple-bogey 7, breaking the heart of every fan who witnessed the debacle.
The triple bogey was good enough to force a playoff with Lee Westwood and Robert Karlsson, but the extremely rattled, nervous Garrigus was as good as done before they headed back to the tee. Westwood went on to win his second PGA Tour title.
“Like I told everybody,” Garrigus said Thursday, “I’ve never been in that situation before. I didn’t know how to handle it. I needed to slow down then.”
As the saying goes, rock bottom is a college education. Garrigus says he learned from that painful afternoon in Memphis, and it showed in Thursday’s first round at Disney.
“Today I took everything one shot at a time and I slowed down and wasn’t jittery,” Garrigus said. “I wasn’t nervous. I swung really well.”
Garrigus is chasing more than just his first win this week at the Magic Kingdom. At No. 122 on the money list, he’s also playing for his job, trying to keep his PGA Tour card for the 2011 season. It’s a situation he’s been in before. In fact, it’s a situation eerily similar to where he was in November 2009.
A year ago, Garrigus entered this same tournament with a chance to make it inside that coveted top 125, but he missed the cut after a pair of 74s and finished at No. 127.
“Last year gave me a good idea of what I was going to be feeling like, because I was in the exact same position,” he said. “I was 122 (on the money list) last year and came out here and didn’t think the right way and didn’t play the right way.”
After missing the cut at Disney last year, Garrigus played the final stage of Q-School, but withdrew after a fourth-round 79, leaving him unsure of just how much PGA Tour golf he would play in 2010.
“I’ve had 21 tournaments to make my money,” Garrigus said. “I didn’t think I was going to get that many. I thought I was only going to get to play in 15 or 16.”
Of those 21 events, Garrigus has made 13 cuts and finished in the top 10 twice (the agonizing second at Memphis and a tie for 10th in the Reno-Tahoe Open). “If I make a whole bunch of cuts and finish 45th, I think that’s a failure,” Garrigus said.
It’s clear that his No. 1 goal is to get into the winner’s circle, and with each round he plays, he moves one step closer to putting his Memphis meltdown behind him. Thursday was yet another step forward.
“I had a really good chance to win in Memphis, but I just didn’t know how to handle it,” Garrigus reiterated. “But if you keep going and keep hitting shot for shot, I know I can win.”
With his PGA Tour card on the line, this would be a great week to prove it.