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The perfect place for unknowns to make a mark

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - All hail Steven Bowditch. And Bill Lunde.

Greg Owen, while you're at it. Throw in Jin Park, James Driscoll and my favorite, Neal Lancaster.

They are the obscure members of the PGA Tour. The ones who have trouble hanging onto their card, and even have to spend a year or two rebuilding their game on the Web.com tour.

They are the underdogs. If they play early in the morning or late in the afternoon, they draw what we might call an intimate gallery. Like millions of other golfers, they chase the dream and fall a few strokes short all the time.

And it seems that players of that level of obscurity rule here at the Greenbrier Classic. I mean, this tournament could draw all the top 30 players of the world, and Matt Every could still lead after 36 holes.

But while Every is not a household word in the sport, he may be too "good" to make this list. He lost full Tour privileges in 2010 and regained his status through the Web.com Tour, and then earned $1.9 million last year.

Does he make a "who's he?" list, or not?

I don't know, but he doesn't reach the Ted Potter Jr. pre-Greenbrier level of last year. If you remember, Potter had troubles on the Web.com Tour, missing all 24 cuts in 2004, and didn't do much better in 2007.

His rookie season on the big tour was going in the tank as he came to Old White with five straight missed cuts. He left with the trophy, $1 million-plus and tickets to the British Open and the 2013 Masters.

If that happens to Bowditch this week, that would be just as crazy.

The 30-year-old Australian joined the big tour in 2006, missing 13 of 15 cuts. Falling to the Web.com Tour, he didn't do much better, making 18 of 39 cuts over the next three years.

He cracked the top 25 in 2010, earning him a promotion for 2011. He fell to conditional status for 2012 and had to survive "Q School" to make it to 2013.

If I were Bowditch, I might hang it up, go back to Australia and root for the Newcastle Knights rugby team. But he's crazy enough to stick with it, and could make a major jump from 181st in the FedExCup standings.

So could Lunde, who is part of the mob at 8 under par, one shot behind Every. As his two-year exemption for winning the 2010 Turning Stone Championship has long expired, he has made the field only five times, missing the cut in four of them.

So could Owen, two shots back at 7 under. The 41-year-old Englishman hasn't sniffed a victory in 188 Tour starts, dropped to the Web.com Tour in 2011, survived "Q School" and returned to the big tour.

So could Driscoll, three shots back at 6 under. He's a two-time Web.com Tour graduate who has sweated out the top 125 of the money list the last two years.

My favorite is 50-year-old Lancaster, who won a tournament in a six-way playoff waaaaay back in 1994. He has played 569 Tour events, with exactly three top-three finishes.

I have to admit I mourned his 71 Friday, which followed his 65 Thursday. A double-bogey on the 12th messed up his day.

So why do Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods miss the cut at Old White, while the Potters and Bowditches of the world sneak up the leaderboard? I don't know, but you know what?

I love it. It doesn't sell many tickets, but that's the beauty of the game - for one week, you can be the king of the sport. You can save your season, give yourself better status.

"It's coming down to the end of the year," Every said. "A lot of guys are trying to get inside the FedEx or the top 125 on the money list to keep their job next year, so it's a big week for a lot of people. If you play good, it can change your life."

Bowditch knows it. That's why he keeps teeing it up. Hey, he gets a 1:40 p.m. tee time today.

"You know, I really haven't put myself in position, really, my whole career, so it's going to be a new experience for me," he said. "My golf swing feels probably the best it's felt in a long time now, so I'm sort of freewheeling it."

He could easily shoot 76-76 over the weekend, or he can pull a Potter and win the thing. That's why this tournament is so interesting.

Contact Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.

 

 

 


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