- Post a Score
Lutz, Fla. -- David Branshaw and Rob Labritz came away from the First Stage of PGA Tour Champions Q-School with the top two spots in the qualifier at Buckhorn Springs in Valrico, Fla. That was in mid-November, and it was one of three First Stage tournaments.
They did it again last week in the Final Stage, except that they reversed the order. This time Labritz won, and Branshaw finished second.
Branshaw, who finished two ahead of Labritz (271 to 273) in the First Stage, led by one shot going into the last round of the Final Stage on Friday at TPC Tampa Bay. But Labritz, a 50-year-old club pro from New York, made seven birdies in a 10-hole stretch on the way to a 7-under-par 64. He made three of those birdies on the front nine, and follwed that up with four birdies on the first five holes of the back nine, and his 72-hole total of 267 (minus 17) was good for a three-stroke victory.
His birdie total was matched by Branshaw. But Branshaw, a 52-year-old former two-time winner on the Nationwide (now Korn Ferry) Tour, had a scorecard that looked like a Variety Pack. He made an early birdie, at the fourth hole, but he suffered a triple bogey at the ninth hole, and then ran off six consecuvite birdies. There was also a bogey at the 18th.
That valedictory bogey cost him outright second place, because Thongchai Jaidee, also 52, after making a double bogey at the 11th, birdied the 12th, 13th and 14th holes and capped off his round with a birdie at the 18th. The resulting 67 lifted the winner of into a tie for second with Branshaw at 270.
So Labritz, Branshaw and Jaidee combined for 13 birdies on the first six holes of the back nine. Not to be outdone, the fourth-place finisher, Roger Rowland, played the 10th through the 14th in 5 under. He birdied the 10th, 12th and 13th holes, and eagled the 588-yard, par-5 14th. Six holes into his round on Friday Rowland was 2 over for the day and 1 under for the tournament, tied for 21st. He then played the next 11 holes in 8 under and wound up with a 65.
That moved him up 17 places, all the way up to fourth, just ahead of Tom Gillis, who started the day in fourth, but shot 72 and slipped back into fifth at 276. Nevertheless, that was good enough to gain full status on the Champions Tour in 2022.
No one else earned full status.
The Champions Tour is the toughest of the big three U.S. tours (PGA, Korn Ferry and Champions) to get on, and the toughest to stay on. There is no better example of that than the Q-School.
Only the top five finishers get their Champions Tour cards for the following year.
Those who finish in places 6 through 30 are exempt from the Thursday pre-qualifiers and can go straight into the Monday qualifers. But that's no bargain. There have been years when you could have shot 68 in every Monday qualifying tournament -- and never gotten into a singe Champions Tour event.
Mario Tiziani was one of the guys who wound up in the 6th-through-30th Netherworld. The 51-year-old former University of Wisconsin star who spent one full season on the PGA Tour (2005), earned two remarkable come-from-behind victories this year. He was five behind as he began the back nine at Keller on the last day of the Minnesota Senior Open, but he played the back nine in 4 under, shot 66 and won by four. In the Wisconsin Senior Open at Blackhawk, Tiziani trailed the leader, Kurt Mantyla, by 10 shots as he started the back nine. He proceeded to birdie six of the next seven holes, posted a 68 and finished at 141. A late-round collapse by Mantyla resulted in a tie at that numbetr, and Tiziani won the playoff on the fifth extra hole.
On Friday, Tiziani needed another back-nine charge, but he could conjure up only one birdie, at the 14th. One more would have done the trick, but he made one bogey instead, at the 430-yard, par-4 16th. He shot 69 and was 6 under for the tournament, at 278, but that was two shots out of fifth and in a four-way tie for 10th.
PGA Tour Champions
At TPC Tampa Bay
Final results (the top five finishers gain exempt status on the 2022 Champions Tour; players from sixth through 30th can play in Monday qualiers)
1. Rob Labritz 65-71-67-64--267 (-17)
T2. David Branshaw 67-67-68-68--270
T2. Thongchai Jaidee 68-72-63-67--270
4. Roger Rowland 72-70-68-65--275
5. Tom Gillis 65-69-70-72--276
What it took -- 276
T10. Mario Tiziani 66-72-70-72--278