Presnell delights in ‘ultimate dream’ at Doral

Alistair Presnell opened with a 67 Thursday at WGC-CA Championship at the TPC Blue Monster at Doral.

Alistair Presnell opened with a 67 Thursday at WGC-CA Championship at the TPC Blue Monster at Doral.

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DORAL, Fla. – On a stage filled with stars – 13 players who’ve combined for 23 major championships, 40 players who’ve won PGA Tour tournaments, dozens of millionaires – his presence seemed out of place.

Alistair Presnell?

Good gracious, Gladys, break out the media guide.

But on second thought, don’t bother, because when you turn to page 76 in this week’s CA Championship information book, you’ll discover only the bare bones about Presnell: That he’ll turn 31 March 26, that he didn’t turn pro until he was 25 and that he’s from Australia.

Gee, there’s a bulletin. I mean, who isn’t from Australia? At least it sure seems that way when it comes to the PGA Tour landscape. Heck, even Hunter Mahan is from Australia – at least according to the first-round pairings sheet that was handed out before players embarked upon their duties at the Blue Monster.

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Anyway, back to Presnell, who may not have posted the lowest score in Round 1, though surely he wore the warmest smile. That can only lead you suggest to that perspective is a wonderful, albeit rare, commodity out here.

“It beats air conditioning,” Presnell said, referring to the line of work he once was involved in. “(In fact) it beats just about everything.”

Give Presnell credit. He’s picked a pretty stellar spot in which to make his PGA Tour debut. A World Golf Championship, an $8.5 million purse, 48 of the world’s top 50 players standing alongside at the practice range, worldwide television coverage. Heck, if he were to finish dead last in the field of 68, he’d earn $40,000. To put that in the proper context, consider that he’s earned $19,545 in four tournaments thus far in 2010.

But it’s where those tournaments have taken place that makes Presnell unique.

The Nationwide Tour.

That’s right, surrounded by guys who’ve made the big stages in America and Europe their home, Presnell is a minor-leaguer with big-league dreams. How different is the landscape for him this week? Here’s one example: If you add up the purses for his four Nationwide Tour stops this year, it comes to $2,450,000 – $5,550,000 less than what he’s involved in this week.

“This,” Presnell said, “is the ultimate dream.”

You could find a few guys in this week’s field who feel similarly, but mostly we have become accustomed to players who take it all for granted. Not Presnell, whose spot in this week’s field comes courtesy of his finish on the 2009 Australasia Tour’s money list. He was second to Michael Sim, a position that was pretty much made possible by his victory in the Nationwide Tour stop in Australia, the Moonah Classic.

That victory also enabled Presnell to play full-time on the Nationwide Tour in 2009, an opportunity he seized upon with good success. Finishing 28th on the money list with $179,433, he was just $12,034 behind the 25th spot, which would have earned him PGA Tour status.

A close call, but hardly disheartening. It was a huge improvement over chances he had in 2006 and 2007, Q-School bids that ended at second stage, and Presnell knew for 2010 he’d be back on the Nationwide Tour, back pushing toward his PGA Tour dream.

“Marc Leishman (the 2009 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year) is a good friend,” Presnell said, “and seeing what he’s done makes me believe this (PGA Tour dream) is achievable.”

On a day when the Blue Monster had plenty of bite, thanks to the fury of winds that were steady at 20 mph, with gusts up to 30, Presnell acquitted himself beautifully. He birdied the par 5s on the back nine, Nos. 10 and 12, ran off nine consecutive pars, then stumbled with bogeys at the par-4 fourth and par-4 sixth.

Though he missed reasonably good birdie chances at the par-5 eighth and par-3 ninth, Presnell’s even-par 72 has him tied for 24th. Better still, he thought he handled the big stage well.

“It was definitely exciting,” Presnell said. “I thought I’d be a little more nervous, but I was reasonably comfortable. I wish I would have putted better, but . . .”

But he knows almost everyone in the field of 68 would say something similar. But there’s no one else at the Blue Monster this week who can say he played in Panama a few weeks ago and Colombia last week, Nationwide Tour stops where Presnell finished in the money.

If it seems to be a lengthy trip from Colombia to Miami, it’s nothing when compared with how far Presnell actually has traveled in this golf business. He didn’t start playing the game until he was 16. At 20, after deciding the air-conditioning trade wasn’t for him, Presnell got serious about golf. Yes, he was without the junior golf pedigree that some of his countrymen had assembled (Adam Scott, for one), but that hardly bothered Presnell. What did almost derail his dream were three years on the Asian Tour.

“I lost a little bit of interest,” Presnell said. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going.”

Then, thanks to his Moonah win and his Nationwide Tour spot, Presnell got a taste of pro golf with a visit to Athens, Ga., last April.

“As soon as I got over here, I knew what I wanted. I loved it.”

Presnell let the words sink in as the smile widened.

Given the hall pass he has from the Nationwide Tour this week and the opportunity to mix it up with most of the world’s best players for money that is absurd beyond anything he has ever experienced, you could almost read his smile as saying: “What’s not to love?”

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