Welcome to the get-well swing of the PGA Tour. The official finish line for the 1997 season is the Oct. 30-Nov. 2 Tour Championship, but for the stragglers—the players trying to hang on to their cards and their careers—the end comes a week earlier, at the Las Vegas Invitational. That's the defining event on their calendar because it's the last chance to crack the top 125 on the money list. To these players, frustration has already turned to panic, and tournaments like last week's CVS Charity Classic at Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton, Mass., where a weak field (39 of the top 50 money winners took a pass) is viewed as a strong opportunity, are great places to get healthy in a hurry. Some did and some didn't at Pleasant Valley.
Loren Roberts did. He won the tournament and a two-year exemption, although the highlight of his season remains the Players Championship, in which his third-place finish was worth $22,000 more than the $216,000 first prize at the CVS. "I played good at Bay Hill [tied for sixth] and at the Players, and that was my whole year, basically, until the last two tournaments," said Roberts, who came in second in Milwaukee three weeks ago when Scott Hoch won by chipping in for eagle on the 72nd hole. That was a disappointment, yes, but the close call reinvigorated him in a year in which he was never in contention to make the Ryder Cup team for a second straight time.
"I told my wife after Scott chipped in, 'You know, I think I'm going to win before the year is out,' " Roberts said. "Obviously I would have liked to have won a couple before the Ryder Cup, but I'll take 'em when I can get 'em." His play in Milwaukee inspired Roberts to add Pleasant Valley to his schedule, a move that paid off with the fifth victory of his career.
Chip Beck didn't get well. Beck, a 19-year veteran who played in three straight Ryder Cups from 1989 to '93, missed his 19th consecutive cut. The Tour's Mr. Positive ranks 259th on the money list and hasn't cashed a check since the Honda Classic in March.
Bill Glasson, whose last win came at the 1994 Phoenix Open, is in the pink again. Out for 10 months after surgery in May 1996 to repair a detached muscle in his right forearm, Glasson didn't shoot higher than 67 at Pleasant Valley and finished second, one stroke behind Roberts's 18-under-par 266. It was Glasson's third straight top 10 finish and moved him to 48th on the money list. "It was a step forward," he said, "but I'd like to get over the hump. I won't feel I'm all the way back until I win. I gave myself a lot of chances, but when it comes down to a great putter and me, take the great putter."
That would be Roberts, better known as the Boss of the Moss. He putted only 25 times during his closing 64 and never had more than 28 putts in any round. Glasson never had less than 28. "Loren, Brad Faxon and Jim Furyk are probably the three best putters on our Tour," says Peter Jacobsen, who finished third. "No one's going to beat Loren on the greens." How magical is Roberts's touch? After the award ceremony on the 18th green, he stuck around to help an amateur line up a 10-footer for a $25,000 prize—half of which went to charity. The amateur made it. "You think he's going to miss after I read it for him?" Roberts joked.
Jacobsen also got well in Massachusetts. He interrupted a mediocre year—he was 90th in earnings going in and now ranks 68th—by rediscovering the short game that briefly made him the Tour's hottest player in '95. Jacobsen was eighth in greens in regulation before Pleasant Valley but 151st in putting. Then he got a tip from Pat Aiken, a club pro from Portland, who noticed that Jacobsen's legs were moving during his stroke. Cured, Jacobsen took only 25 putts in his final-round 65. "Hopefully, I'm back on track," he says. "All in all, I'm very happy."
Woody Austin is not. The Tour's rookie of the year in 1995, he made a cut for only the sixth time in 29 starts but left just as disgusted as when he arrived, muttering something about finding a new line of work. His closing 79 wiped out a modest but hard-earned three-under-par total after 54 holes, and he remains about $60,000 short of what he needs to keep his card for '98.
Austin's at zero and holding on the confidence meter. He missed 11 cuts in a row early in the year, going 0 for February, March and April. "I'm lost," he says. "I'm not shooting 80, that's the only good thing. My problem is I don't have much time. I've got only six tournaments left or I'm back to hell, which is where I don't want to go." To Tour players, hell is the Tour's qualifying tournament, better known as Q school.
Austin's slide began when his uncle Skip Crawford died the day after last Christmas. Crawford once played for the Washington Generals, the designated victims of the Harlem Globetrotters, and he and Austin were close. "I spent New Year's at a funeral," Austin says. "That's a hard way to start the year." Shortly thereafter, Austin's wife, Shannon, lost one of her best friends, her grandmother. Austin withdrew from the Hawaiian Open to attend the funeral. "And all this time I'm playing like a dog, trying to figure out what's going on," he says. Nine weeks later, after the Masters, Austin discovered that the glasses he had worn since the start of the year were the wrong prescription, which helped explain those six four-putts on the West Coast and a lot of other bad shots. "My eyes were so bad I couldn't make a putt from anywhere," says Austin, who's a below-average putter to begin with. "At first the ground looked like it was going in six different directions. I'd line up a putt and ask my caddie, 'I've got it left edge, don't I?' He'd say, 'No, you got it two feet left of the hole.' " A new optometrist laughed when she checked Austin's eyes and saw his prescription. "She said, 'Your depth perception is terrible,' " says Austin. " 'There's no way you could play golf.' "