LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Roland Thatcher has had a few heartbreaks and smashups at the end of important season-ending events associated with the PGA Tour in the past.
|Children's Miracle Network Classic|
So maybe this time, he's owed an answer to his Hail Mary prayer.
Scuffling along in the veritable dead zone at No. 179 on the tour money list headed into the season finale at Disney World, Thatcher was hoping mostly to get some positive momentum established heading into Qualifying School, where he faced playing in not one but two stages starting next week.
"Obviously, the goal has changed," he laughed.
Most folks would rightly cringe at the obvious Cinderella comparison, given this week's locale at the Children's Miracle Network Classic, but Thatcher would only be too happy to don that particular crown after the rally he staged in the first two rounds at Disney. It would be an improbably cartoonish conclusion to a season that has generated darned few laughs.
Sign him up for the gown and tiara.
"Pun intended," he said of the Cinderella characterization, "that would be fantastic."
That would certainly represent a new development. Thatcher, who must win or finish solo second to save his tour card and avoid Q-school altogether, has felt more like Bambi's mom in the past.
|Roland Thatcher's 9-under 63 Friday completes his best consecutive rounds as a professional. (Getty Images)|
But that moderately sad ending was nothing compared to the splashdown he experienced in 2001 at Q-school finals in South Florida. Needing a par on the 108th and final hole at Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, he airmailed his approach shot over the green, then watched it carom off a cart path and onto the roof of the clubhouse. Needless to say, he didn't salvage par, though he eventually made it to the PGA Tour three years later.
Over the arc of his time since, much of which has been spent riding the shuttle between the Triple-A Nationwide and the PGA Tour, Thatcher has never before posted consecutive rounds like this week at Disney. After starting with a solid 65 at the easier of the two tournament venues Thursday, the Palm Course, Thatcher eviscerated the Magnolia with a 9-under 63 on Friday to take a four-shot lead at 16 under over his pairings partner, Chris Stroud, and Brian Gay.
Stroud made a birdie on the 18th on Friday, almost did a cartwheel in celebration, and said he was just trying to keep up with his playing partner.
"I was just trying to catch Roland to play with him on Saturday and Sunday, man," he said.
Not to put too fine a point on how transcendent Thatcher's play has been this week, but in his previous 108 PGA Tour events, he has only twice bettered his current score of 16 under ... over a full 72 holes.
"I haven't had a whole lot of fun playing golf this year and kind of made up for it today," Thatcher said.
Despite his rather ostentatious name, Roland Churchill Thatcher IV, he's a blue-collar pro who has been grinding for nearly a decade to keep his place on the major tour. In one gawd-awful stretch at midseason, Thatcher missed eight cuts in 10 events. If not for a T10 finish in midseason at New Orleans, where Thatcher made nearly half of his seasonal total in earnings with a check for $141,867, he'd have needed an outright win this week to have any chance of keeping his card.
In golf's pantheon of plotlines this week, Disney is more about survival than star power. By comparison, the Singapore event on the European Tour is topped at the moment by celebrated PGA Tour members Adam Scott, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter. Disney's board is littered with, well, litter.
The PGA Tour's website on Thursday described unheralded first-round leader Stroud as a "Fall Series standout," which prompted one Sports Illustrated scribe to write on his Twitter page, "Is that another way of saying this guy sucks?"
Sort of the reverse of the tour's longtime "these-guys-are-good campaign." But a raft of guys fighting for their tour livelihoods are putting up the numbers this week, for sure. For some, desperation is quite the motivational ploy.
Disney has been situated near the back end of the PGA Tour's annual lineup card for decades, and moved into the final slot in 2008, when the biggest Hail Mary attempt in tour history was mustered by a hardscrabble rookie named Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey.
He began that particular Disney week ranked 228th in earnings and had made less money in his first big-league season than half the scribes in the media center -- which, if you could see our bank accounts, is not a good sign. Alas, Gainey finished second to proven star Davis Love and lost his card.
With three Nationwide wins, Thatcher has a more established resume than Gainey, but the former has made 45 of 109 cuts in his PGA Tour career, which pretty well underscores his occasional bounces between the two tours.
This week, he's looked more like the guy who won the first three tournament staged at Disney. Some dude named Nicklaus.
As Thatcher was going over his round, the Golf Channel TV screen in the corner was displaying some of his statistics for the round, which included hitting 11 of 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens and a mere 23 putts.
"If you saw that coming," Thatcher cracked of the numbers, "you were the only one."
So, maybe given his past endgame travails, there's light at the end of this particular tunnel. Let's hope for his sake, it's not an oncoming Monorail.