2002: Buy.com Tour - The flip side

By Rex Hoggard

Prattville, Ala.

The problem with sentimental favorites is the inevitable yin to every darling’s yang.

For every Cinderella story, there’s an equally emotional tale of woe. For every Jay Delsing and Jeff Klauk, there’s a Todd Barranger and Tag Ridings who must stumble to make room so others can excel.

On the Buy.com Tour, for a shooting star to vault from the wrong side of the bubble into the top 15 promised land and earn a PGA Tour card, another unfortunate soul must fall from grace.

Last year, it was Barranger who started the week at the season finale 15th on the money list, shot a million (actually 85) in the first round and never recovered. Barranger’s miscue made room for a charging Brenden Pappas to slip into the top 15. It also left an emotional scar that Barranger has been tending to for 12 months.

“He beat himself up during the off-season last year,” said Barranger’s wife, Tracy. “He never really got over what happened.”

This year, the 34-year-old began the week at the Buy.com Tour Championship perched in the same precarious spot on the money list. This time around, however, there would be no collapse.

“Last year, I really wanted to be on the (PGA) Tour but I realized they weren’t going to come down and give it to me,” said Barranger, who finished last week’s weather-shortened event at 4-under 212, six shots behind champion Patrick Moore, to maintain his spot on the money list and earn a ’03 PGA Tour card.

“My biggest change has been course management. I’ve learned when to not be afraid to aim away from pins.”

Barranger began his week with 65, a then-course record and 20-stroke improvement over his opening-day debacle last year on the same soggy Senator Course, but wavered Friday with a 73 to open the door for potential party crashers.

Delsing gave the dreamweavers their first glimpse of what could be when he drilled a 4-iron through the mist Friday for eagle at No. 18 to cap a course- and tournament-record 63.

“It’s amazing, just when you get to the point where you get really fed up with this game you turn around and get a day like this,” said Delsing, who arrived in the heart of Dixie No. 18 on the money list and needed a victory to assure a return trip to the Show.

Yet as the rain continued to soak Capitol Hill’s 7,685-yard Senator Course, making the longest layout this year on the Buy.com Tour even longer, the list of potential Cinderella stories dwindled.

Delsing’s third-round 75 knocked him out of the picture. Eric Meeks, who at No. 19 on the money list was in the same predicament as Delsing, stumbled to an even-par 72 to drop out of contention, leaving just one potential suitor to the comeback crown.

Klauk, the laid-back former Florida Southern standout, began the week 42nd on the money list and made only two bogeys through his first two rounds. When the horn sounded Saturday evening to signal the suspension of third-round play, he was alone atop the leaderboard at 9 under through 12 holes.

But fate, and Mother Nature, would assure there would be no last minute shakeups this time.

When the third round resumed early Sunday, Klauk played his remaining six holes in 1 over to slip into a tie for second, two strokes behind Moore. Klauk, 24, battled back, clawing his way into the lead at 11 under midway through his final round when more rain forced officials to scrap the final round and the event was shorten to 54 holes.

“I’m disappointed,” said Klauk, who finished tied for second place and moved up 20 spots on the money list to earn an exemption into the final stage of Q-School.

“You can’t control the weather. I had a chance this morning and didn’t get it done. There are no negatives this week.”

Barranger did his part to avoid another letdown as well. He grinded his way to 16 pars in difficult conditions for a third-round 74, good for a tie for 13th and, more importantly, a long-awaited answer to a nagging question that had haunted him for 12 months.

“He’s matured a lot . . . I’ve really seen the difference,” said H Bufton, a regular player on the Asian PGA Tour who began caddying for Barranger last month in Utah. “Every shot used to be do or die but now it’s just a game. Now he’s having fun.”

Barranger wasn’t the only bubble boy making things interesting. Ridings bogeyed three of his last five holes Saturday for a third-round 70 but his tie for 13th also was enough to keep him safely inside the top 15.

Though there were no 11th-hour heroes breaking into the top 15 there was plenty of movement on the money list.

Moore’s victory was his third of the season, making him the fifth player in tour history to earn an immediate “battlefield promotion” to the PGA Tour. It also lifted him to $381,965, past Arron Oberholser on the season-ending money list.

“I can’t think of a better way of finishing the season,” said Moore, who had rounds of 71-69-66. “This is the culmination of 10 years of hard work turning into six months of really good golf.”

New Zealand’s Steven Alker finished tied for second and jumped six spots on the money list to No. 4 while Aussie Aaron Baddeley, who at 21 years, seven months is the youngest player to earn his Tour card via his finish on the developmental circuit, slipped one spot to 10th.

On the other side of the top-15 bubble, four players – Klauk, Mike Heinen (T-2), Roland Thatcher (T-7) and Brian Claar (T-13) – moved inside the top 30 and earned exemptions into Q-School final stage.

In a sentimental twist, however, it was Barranger’s dogged hold on the final PGA Tour card, and not a dark horse’s unlikely ascension, that became the feel-good story of this Buy.com Tour Championship.

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