Wagner remains upbeat despite loss of card
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Cruel fate, Johnson Wagner losing his PGA Tour card Sunday at The Happiest Place on Earth. Yet afterward, not 10 minutes removed from finishing No. 126 on the money list, he was . . . delighted.
Delighted because Wagner will skip the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School. Delighted because, at No. 126, he’s still virtually assured of making at least 20 Tour starts next season. And delighted because on the last day of a discouraging season, he authored a stirring final-round comeback that put him in position to win again.
“I’m about to break down right now,” Wagner said. “I just love this job, and you play out here and you try to protect that so much.”
The final round of the Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Disney offered a delicious opportunity for Wagner, 30, who began the week 153rd on the money list and had only a pair of top 10s in the past two seasons. Here he was, 2 1/2 years after winning in Houston, coming down the stretch again, trying to hole wedge shots for eagle (he actually did on 14), trying to be aggressive on every putt, trying to make a desperate move up the leaderboard.
Before it all came undone on 16. Wagner explains: “I’ve been thinking about the 17th tee shot all day (long par 4 with severe dogleg left and water in play), and I was standing there on the tee thinking, ‘OK, this is a good practice run for 17.’ And I blocked it way right.”
Wagner’s tee ball settled in the hazard, under a root, a position from which, he said, “if I tried to hit it, it would have hit me in the face.” So he took an unplayable, hit 7-iron into the greenside bunker and two-putted for double bogey.
He managed to par the final two holes, including a slippery 5-footer on the last – “The most nerve-wracking putt of my life” – and Wagner signed for a final-round 67, a 17 under par total, a T-3 worth $244,400. That left him $33,175 shy of No. 125 Troy Merritt ($753,802).
“Makes me think about all the wedges I’ve fatted in the water to miss the cut by one,” Wagner quipped.
All is not lost, of course. Wagner will play 20-25 Tour events next season. (Last year’s No. 126, Will MacKenzie, made 23 starts in 2010.) He could earn full status via Q-School. So for one day, at least, being No. 126, the last man out, didn’t feel half bad.
“I was so young in my PGA Tour career in Houston that I didn’t know any better,” Wagner said. “I’ve struggled so much since then, and to be coming down the stretch with a chance was great.”