Desperation stakes at CordeValle

The PGA Tour stragglers get a second chance this week of saving their endangered Tour cards at the Open.

The US PGA Tour stragglers get a second and, perhaps, an even better chance than last week, of picking up crucial, Tour card-saving dollars in this week’s Open.

That’s because Ernie Els, the reigning Open Champion and currently No 22 in the World, and Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, fresh from his Ryder Cup heroics and ranked at No 35, are among the few high-profile, big-guns teeing off at the CordeValle Golf Club in California on Thursday.

At the end of this season only 125 players will automatically retain their exemptions for next year’s PGA Tour so the fewer the big guns there are in the Tour’s three remaining Fall Series events, including this week’s Frys, the better it is for players who are currently just inside or on the outer fringes of that qualifying bubble and need to improve their situations

Along with Els, playing not because he has to, but rather because he wants to, there are eight other major winners in the field, including Trevor Immelman, Ben Curtis, Mike Weir, Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, Angel Cabrera, John Daly and Vijay Singh, but except for Singh, who shot two rounds of 66 before slipping out of the chasing pack and finishing 36th last week, not too many of his fellow major winners are currently ranked among the Tour’s hottest players.

Most of the above will qualify for their cards next year, either because they are inside the 125 qualifying cut line or because their major titles earned them 10-year exemptions that are still valid. However, Leonard, the 1997 Open Champion, who is at number 130 on the money list and Daly the 1991 PGA winner and 1995 Open Champion, who is at number 132, are both in great danger of not getting their 2013 Tour cards if they can’t hoist themselves higher on the money list before the US season ends in a fortnight’s time.

Els, one of the game’s busiest, golf-playing course designers, said on his website this week that he was playing at CordeValle because he had enjoyed the course last year where he finished fourth – and because it had helped lift his game out of the doldrums.

“I played here last year and it was the first time I’d got a look at this Robert Trent Jnr design. Straight away I liked what I saw. It’s in a beautiful setting and the course was in great condition. I played well here, too,” he said.

“Actually, last year’s Open was one of my better performances of 2011. I’d had a pretty miserable season up to that point, but I came here and shot rounds of 69, 66, 67, 68 to finish tied-4th.

“It was a strong week and I remember I actually felt a little disappointed that I hadn’t won, so that was a big turnaround mentally. It was the start of a shift in momentum and suddenly I could see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Els’s return to CordeVille could be made even more pleasant by the weather

According to Golf, the tournament will be played in mostly sunny and mild weather with no rain and only light breezes of around 5 and 6 mph. The exception will be on Sunday when the wind might gust up 10 mph maximum in the late afternoon.

But for all this, the big, sweet-swinging South African is not the favourite of the PGA Tour’s ‘Power Rankings’ forecaster Rob Bolton.

Bolton believes that a better bet is Els’ compatriot Tim Clark who, since his return from an elbow injury at start of this season has almost invisibly earned close to $1.5 million and ranks second on tour this season in fairways hit and tied for sixth in his last start at CordeValle in 2010.

Behind him the men who get the vote this week in order of preference, are Swede Jonas Blixt, Brendan Steele, Jeff Overton and young gun Bud Cawley – whose lone third-place finish at the Frys last year, ensured that he was among the125 who earned automatic Tour exemptions.

Colsaerts, whose average of just over 317 yards has made him the game’s longest driver anywhere in the world this year, is a surprise entry for the Frys.

He has been playing most of his golf on the European Tour this year, but the current good form of this much-improved Belgium and his stunning play in the first round of the recent Ryder Cup may have prompted him to have a bash at winning here this week and thus earning the direct, short-cut PGA Tour membership that all winners get.

Although CordeValle stretches up to 7,368 yards, it ranked as the second shortest of all courses in terms of driving distance last year (275.8 yards) so being a long hitter may not be a major advantage here – except on its three par-fives, the 9th, 12th and the 15th, which together have ranked as being among the 10 most difficult sets of longer holes on the US Tour, the longest being the 605-yard, par five 12th.

Another European golfer who is being given a good chance of winning here his week is Hendrik Jacobson. The Swede has played only in a limited number of tour events this year, but he has a history that could spell danger to the other contenders in the limited field