E.A. Sports Today

‘It’s bubble for a lot of us’

County Tour players jockeying for position in Player of the Year, top 16 races

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Andrew Brooks was standing in the rough just to the right of the 17th green Saturday when he asked the question that had been gnawing at him for a couple weeks.

“What do I need to do to get in the top 16?” he asked a visitor who had just approached his group.

The end of the Calhoun County Golf Tour season is fast approaching and the scramble is on to make the top 16 in the player points standings. Those who make that cut, of course, qualify for the County Match Play Championship and the possibility of not making it wore heavily on the event’s defending champ.

To not have the defending champ back would be akin to making a double bogey after a birdie.

“That’d be pretty disappointing if the Match Play champion wasn’t able to defend his title,” said Brooks, who used a final-hole eagle to beat Gary Wigington in last year’s final. “It would be the ultimate disappointment because of how much I enjoyed that match play event last year.

“Whether I’m able to play as well during that event if I do make it is one thing, but to not even get the opportunity that would be an utter disappointment.”

By his own admission this hadn’t been nearly as good a Tour season as last year when wound up seeded 10th. He hasn’t finished higher than T-15 in any of previous four Tour events and went into this weekend’s Pine Hill Invitational tied for 18th in the standings, 45 points behind the 16th slot currently occupied by Cole McNeal.

He may get a little help with four players ahead of him in the standings not here this weekend – and provided he remains in the top 15 he’ll gain at least 12.5 points on the reset heading to the County Championship — but he’d still like to play well enough to move up on his own merit.

“I knew coming into this tournament I had to play well here and the next one to feel good about putting myself back in that event,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’ve got to win, but I feel like I need to play considerably better than I have the past several tournaments to put myself in a position to get back in. Going into Cane Creek I knew I needed to start stepping it up a little bit.”

He’s off to a good start and has people rooting for him to make the field. The 4-under 68 he posted Saturday left him tied for fourth and was two or three strokes better than he thought he’d shoot, but he said he played better than he scored. He was 3-under through 11 holes, and then ran through a spate of pars before closing with a birdie on 18.

“We kind of joked around about that,” Jeremy McGatha said. “Dude, you’re the defending champion, you’d better get in the Match Play and he was like, ‘I know, I know.’”

Actually, it’s bubble time for a lot of players. Kevin Daugherty is positioning himself to move up from his 21st position after an opening-round 68. Unlike players who’ll be dropping points on the reset, he can only add to his total this week having reached the minimum tournaments to take into the County.

“I would certainly like to get in the top 16,” he said. “It would be fun. But to me the best thing about all this is I’m getting to play with guys I hadn’t played with in years.”

But it’s not just the guys fighting to get into the field who are anxious. It’s a bubble time for McGatha, whose focus is on the Player of the Year race. He is currently third, 190 points behind leader Ty Cole and nearly 130 behind Gary Wigington.

“I know I need to win here because if I don’t win here it’s going to be hard for me even if I won the County to be Player of the Year,” McGatha said. “Ty’s got two wins and two seconds; I’ve got a win and two thirds. If I could win here, it would be two wins and two thirds and me, him and Twig could battle it out at the County.

“It’s bubble for a lot of us.”

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