Players on the bubble roll the dice at Vegas Tour stop
Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open
Course: TPC Summerlin (7,224 yards, par 71), Las Vegas.
Purse: $4.3 million. Winner's share: $774,500.
Last year: Scotland's Martin Laird won his first PGA Tour title, beating George McNeill with a birdie on the third hole of a playoff. Chad Campbell was eliminated on the second extra hole.
Notes: The tournament is the fourth of five Fall Series events. ... U.S. Ryder Cup players Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler are in the field.
LAS VEGAS – Fight your way through the maze of slot machines that greet you just steps out of the plane, make your way into your rental car, and what catches your attention out on the open desert roadways is a huge billboard.
The Osmonds are in town.
And as if that isn’t enough of a time-capsule jolt, a pursuit of other entertainment options reveals that Debbie Reynolds and Cher just closed out shows, and that Barry Manilow, Sheena Easton and Paul Anka are preparing to open up.
OK, so Wayne Newton’s not in the mix, but the point is, retro entertainment is big business out here in “Sin City.” It stands to reason, then, that it’s the perfect place to have a retro PGA Tour stop.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Rocco Mediate: Talk about your late-season sprints to the finish line. He was 182nd on the money list a week ago and not only winless since 2002 but without a top 10 since late 2009. Heck, he had already sent in his entry form and fee for Q-School. So what happens? At 47 and without an equipment contract, carrying a light bag and a homemade swing, Mediate makes an eagle in each round and storms to victory at the Frys.com Open. Stunning, to say the least. What better place to try and remain on a roll than Vegas?
Kevin Sutherland: For 13 consecutive years he has ranked within the top 125 earners, many times comfortably. Just two years ago, in fact, Sutherland was 18th at season’s end. Now, he’s in a precarious spot, sitting 121st. His only win came at the 2002 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, but he’s the quintessential PGA Tour guy who tees it up 25-30 times a year, grinds it out and represents much of what is terrific about the sport. Easy guy to root for.
Chris DiMarco: If DiMarco can follow Mediate’s lead and rejuvenate his career with a dramatic money-list jump, he could have Anthony Kim to thank. DiMarco has been added to the field Open, replacing Kim. He comes into the tournament ranked 167th on the money list and very much in need of a performance like Mediate’s.
Nick Watney: OK, he’s a California kid (born in Sacramento, went to school in Fresno), but Las Vegas is his adopted home. That qualifies him as a local favorite, for sure, yet the bigger picture is Watney’s last chance to earn a victory in 2010. Hard to believe he hasn’t already done so, given that he’s played perhaps the best golf of his PGA Tour career this season. There have been seven top 10s, he’s missed just two cuts in 23 starts, and he comes into the week 29th on the money list. His final-round 81 that cost him a chance to win the PGA Championship was a lowlight to the year, no doubt, but Watney rebounded with a scintillating 63-67 to nearly win the Tour Championship.
Introducing the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open, where you won’t hear the phrase “FedEx Cup points” mentioned once. No sir. This week, it’s a throwback in time, to when all that mattered on the PGA Tour was the money list.
“Vegas” and “money,” of course, go together like peanut butter and jelly, and so this gambling mecca is the perfect backdrop. There’s a long list of players rolling the dice to try and secure prime positions on the money list.
It used to be that being top 125 on the money list – and thus in possession of a PGA Tour card for the next year – was paramount all year long. Not so anymore, not with the advent in 2007 of the FedEx Cup playoffs, where greater emphasis went to where players stood on the points list. But with the playoffs over and the Fall Series in full swing, the battle for the top 125 takes center stage with all of this town’s other retro acts.
Are you paying attention, John Mallinger?
“I’m aware of it, obviously,” said the fourth-year PGA Tour member. “I’m not thinking about it too much. It is kind of out of my power. I’ve just got to play golf, do the best I can. I can’t really rely on other people.”
Mallinger, who finished 51st, 91st, and 50th in earnings in his first three years, enters the Timberlake event 130th on the money list, $59,814 behind No. 125 Woody Austin. Like a healthy list of other notable veterans here in Vegas who are currently outside looking in – Briny Baird, Bob Estes, Billy Mayfair, Joe Ogilvie, Brett Quigley and Lee Janzen – Mallinger is in Vegas to gamble, only not at the slots or tables, but on the golf course.
What he brings with him is an attitude that tries to alleviate too much pressure.
“If I do it, I do it,” he said. “If I don’t, I don’t.”
While that hints at the fact that players outside the top 125 have options – like going back to the Tour’s annual qualifying tournament – Mallinger knows that being inside the top 125 is a far more comfortable reality. It enables a player to pretty much breathe easy for the next few months and plan a 2011 schedule without worrying about a pressure-packed six-round qualifier in early December.
“Been there, done that,” is what players would tell you about Q-School.
And while they’re OK with retro when it comes to their Vegas shows, it’s not what they want with their golf careers.