Allen gets at least one more shot at PGA Tour in 2009

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For one of the few times in his career, Michael Allen could play a round of golf and relax. He could take in the sights, hear the sounds and breathe easy. It was a glorious day at Walt Disney World, and Allen enjoyed every bit of it.

Sure, the day's work at the Children's Miracle Network Classic became simpler on Sunday since he was on his way to a final-round 67 and a ninth-place finish, which paid him $133,400.

More important to the veteran golfer, however, was the fact that Allen began the day knowing he had a job next year.

That has often not been the case for Allen, 49, who has been to the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament more times than he has fingers with which to count.

"This is the highlight of the year," Allen said.

He ended the 2008 PGA Tour season with $981,263 in earnings, good enough to finish 106th on the money list.

After starting the final event of the season in the precarious 123rd spot -- only the top 125 are fully exempt for 2009 -- Allen knew he had to grind out one more decent tournament.

And it was important that he did so, because with his 50th birthday looming in January, Allen had his eyes on the Champions Tour if this gig didn't work out. Not that the 50-and-over circuit was any guarantee, either. Allen's $4.6 million in career earnings means he would be several million dollars short under the tour's all-time money list criteria for being fully exempt. So he was prepared to go to Champions Tour Q-school and say goodbye to the PGA Tour.

"I would have been done," he said. "I would have been 126th or 128th [on the money list] or something like that, and that would have been tough. I've been through Q-school so much. These days, it's getting harder and harder to get out here out of Q-school. I was going to go to the Champions Tour, see how it went and start a new career.

"The big day was Friday," Allen said. "I knew I had to make the cut. I shot only 2 under the first day and I knew I had to go shoot 3 or 4 under [Friday]. And that was really hard. Once I [shot 67 Friday], it was like I didn't have any pressure. I knew I had a cushion."

And an open calendar for December.

Allen, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., had been to Q-school more than a dozen times, managing to get his card on nine occasions. The last time was in 2006, after he finished 153rd on the money list that season.

The prospect of Q-school is something Allen often faced. A pro since 1984, he won the Scottish Open on the European Tour in 1989 and came back to the United States, where he has never finished better than 73rd on the money list and has never won a tournament.

"I've been trying to figure it out for years," he said. "I just always seem to play better when my back is up against the wall."

The same could be said for Jeff Overton, who started the Disney tournament on the bubble at No. 125, flirted with falling out during the final round, then managed to rally and finish tied for 21st, which pushed him to 118th on the money list.

"It's great," said a relieved Overton, who played the final two tournaments after undergoing an emergency appendectomy less than three weeks ago. "This means I'm going to get into the Players [Championship], some of the bigger tournaments, the big-money tournaments. I can set my own schedule. It's a learning curve and hopefully next year I can get off to a good start."

The only player to come from outside of the top 125 to earn his card was Scotland's Martin Laird, who started 126th, tied for 21st and won $49,860. Laird slid past Shane Bertsch, who missed the cut and finished 126th by less than $12,000.

The difference between Laird and Bertsch -- which turned out to be a single shot Sunday -- could be quite large in 2009. Players who are ranked 126th to 150th get into tournaments based on their number, but they follow the 50 or so players who qualify for the tour through the Nationwide Tour or Q-school.

So Bertsch -- who did not turn in an application to Q-school because he mistakenly believed he was exempt for next year after fulfilling the terms of a medical extension in 2008 -- will be shut out of many tournaments.

That won't be the case for Allen, who saves $2,500 for not having to go to Champions Tour Q-school and gets to start the 2009 season at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Allen pulled off his 2008 revival -- as usual -- by rallying at the end. Heading into the Las Vegas event last month, Allen was 135th on the money list and $134,000 behind Laird, who was No. 125. Allen tied for third that week to give himself a chance, one he took advantage of at Disney.

"I want to play with the flat bellies," Allen said. "I like it out here. I've been playing the best I ever have. I've been enjoying it out here a lot. The money is better; the [endorsement] contracts are better. I love playing the PGA Tour. It's an honor. I am looking forward to next year.''

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.