By Joe Romaine
A season that began with such promise for so many on the PGA Tour is slowly winding down. In 2012, golf fans saw the likes of Jason Dufner and Rickie Fowler break through for their first wins and the unquestionable resurgence of Tiger Woods is finally growing old.¬† Time is running short for aspiring Tour players yet to secure their cards for the 2013 season.
The 2012 PGA tour leader boards were dominated by household names such as Tiger, Rory, Ernie,and Bubba.¬† Very little room at the head table was saved for the young players on Tour hungry for success. But while the biggest names in the game are collecting a hefty purse and appearance fees in Turkey and elsewhere, some very talented players will be battling it out in California to earn a little security and a future home on the PGA Tour.
Tiger Woods made waves in 2011 by adding the Frys.com¬†open to his fall schedule. Whether it was a PR move or an earnest attempt to ingrain his in-progress swing change to muscle memory, it proved successful.¬† All the drama and stories that Tiger’s presence produces always adds excitement to any event.¬† The Tiger versus Rory conversation has slowly supplanted the Tiger versus Phil banter.¬† However, the 2012 version of the Frys.com¬†open possesses no such drama in which the fans and media can engage. In fact, at last count, this tournament will only field¬†one¬†of the current top 40 on the PGA tour money list.¬† But what the tournament will be lacking in media frenzy, it will have in grit and determination.¬† The field this week only consists of two winners from the 2012 season.¬† Although 16 major champion titles will be represented, only three of those have occurred within the last five seasons. With such a large percentage of the field yearning for success, all the drama this week will be right where it belongs — inside the ropes and on the course.
In its short five year history, the Frys.com¬†open has provided some wonderful, close finishes.¬†Three¬†of the five editions of this tournament have been decided by a playoff. That translates to this event averaging extra holes every other year. Even in 2010, an ever-so-rare non-playoff year at the Frys, the tournament wasn’t without final-round entertainment. Rocco Mediate holed a 116-yard shot for eagle on the 17th hole Sunday to secure a victory — and his Tour card — by one shot.¬† It was his¬†fourth¬†hole out (one was an ace) of the tournament. With so many participants looking to secure a Tour card, for a first win of the year, or even a first¬†career¬†win, the intensity, drama and pressure will be immense.
Although 2012 victors will be scarce among the field this week, there will be some familiar names and faces stalking the fairways at CordeValle Golf Club.¬† Ernie Els is a four-time major winner, including this year’s Open Championship, and tied for fourth at last year’s Frys. If the Big Easy has even a decent week with his putter, the familiar sight of the big South African’s name will be high on the leader board come Sunday.¬† Another name, albeit not nearly as familiar as Els, is Bud Cauley.¬† Bud Cauley joined an illustrious list of names last year by playing his way onto the PGA Tour without going through the Q-School or the¬†Web.com¬†tour. Cauley finished solo third last year and should have plenty of confidence returning this week.
A few other names that stand out are Nicolas Colsaerts, Gary Woodland, Aaron Baddeley and Luke Guthrie.¬† Colsaerts is looking to secure a 2013 PGA tour card this week. He has expressed his affinity for the American Tour and if he shows just a glimpse of what he did during his first appearance at the Ryder Cup, there is no reason to doubt his imposing presence next year in the states. The uber-athletic Woodland will look to take advantage of his gargantuan tee shots and recent work with Butch Harmon to light up CordeValle. Much like Els, if Woodland has a good week on the greens, look for him to be a threat for his second career tour win.
One player that rarely, if ever, has issues with the putter is Aaron Baddeley.¬† Badds needs to reverse his trend of fading down the stretch in order to pick up his first tour win since 2011. Finally, Luke Guthrie is no stranger to winning. He has two Big Ten tournament titles to his name and also won two¬†Web.com¬†events in September alone. With his 2013 PGA tour card all but secured, look for Guthrie to play fearless golf and continue his momentum and be near the leaders on Sunday.
This week, the absence of the spotlight and glamour that comes with the biggest names in golf will be apparent. The roars of the galleries echoing through the grounds will be replaced with more subtle claps and muted cheers. But while the stage this week at the Frys.com¬†open has changed, the drama sure to unfold will remain the same. A large majority of the players in this week’s field will be playing their hearts out and laying it all on the line in an attempt to secure not only a Tour card, but also a role on the main stage among golf’s elite.