Q-school finals a return engagement for Tidland

For many Nationwide Tour players, the agony of barely missing out on graduating to the PGA Tour would be a major career disappointment. For Chris Tidland, it was old hat.

Some guys would cringe at the thought of having to endure six grueling, pressure-filled rounds of Q-school. But for Tidland, that's just part of his yearly ritual.

Tidland, 36, finished 28th on the Nationwide Tour money list when a 42nd-place finish at the season-ending tour championship caused him to drop from No. 25 and out of the group of top-25 finishers who would be promoted to the PGA Tour.

No big deal, Tidland said. Been there, done that in 2004, when he finished 21st on the Nationwide Tour money list and only the top 20 got PGA Tour cards.

So, it's off to Q-school, which has become a regular event on Tidland's schedule. This year will mark his ninth consecutive year in the Q-school finals, the longest streak among active players.

"It's definitely disappointing," Tidland said. "But, it's not the end of the world. We try to keep it all in perspective. Yes, I'd like to get back to the PGA Tour, but I'm still playing golf for a living and I'm able to support my family doing it."

Tidland began the final tournament as the man on the bubble. A triple-bogey on his first hole at the Tour Championship was a bad omen, but he then holed his approach at the second for eagle. The rest of his tournament followed a similar roller-coaster pattern, and he never had a sustained stretch to secure his PGA Tour card.

This time, he said, was more difficult than back in 2004 because he had things in his own hands. In 2004, he had a four consecutive top-10 finishes to get to No. 21 on the money list but was never inside the top 20.

"This year, I was up to 18 or 19 after I won Boise and then I just kept dropping," he said. "That was a little tough to swallow."

Still, Tidland said he didn't dwell on it heading into the final week. He said he didn't pay much attention to the money list in his free time, preferring to just spend quality time with his family rather than obsess over numbers and what needed to happen for him to get his card.

"All I knew was that I needed to play well and have a good tournament," he said. "Yes, there was some pressure being the guy who was in but just barely in. It's impossible not to think about that, but you can't let that get in the way of what you need to do, and I just didn't play well."

Skip Kendall can relate.

Last year, Kendall missed earning a return to the PGA Tour by $1,094 after missing several putts inside of 10 feet on the back nine in the final round of the Tour Championship. It turned out that if he had made just one of those, he would have been inside the top 25.

"It's heartbreaking, but you can't let it devastate you," Kendall said. "You have to look at the entire season and acknowledge that you just didn't play well enough all year. You can't blame it all on the last week."

David Branshaw was this year's player who missed out by one spot. He tied for 11th at the Tour Championship and finished $3,582 behind No. 25 Ricky Barnes when 1 stroke better would have gotten him a PGA Tour card.

"I knew it was close when the Golf Channel cameras started following me," said Branshaw, whose three-putt bogey on No. 16 was the main culprit in his undoing. "But I was playing well. I had confidence; it was just a matter of if the putts would drop, and they didn't."

Branshaw added that he isn't going to beat himself up by thinking about what stroke cost him his card.

"It would be easy to look back, but there wasn't a stroke I hit all year that I wasn't trying my best," he said. "You'd drive yourself crazy if you did that."

Barnes barely hung on to earning his tour card after starting the week at No. 22 on the money list, and he said he could relate to Tidland and Branshaw. In 2006, Barnes fished 23rd on the money list when 22 cards were given out.

"It's like you'd almost rather be 29th or 30th than 26th," Barnes said. "For me, it was really frustrating to be so close, yet so far away."

The one positive about finishing 26th through 40th is an automatic exemption to the final stage of Q-school, which guarantees another shot at reaching the PGA Tour.

"Nothing against the Nationwide Tour, but we all want to be on the PGA Tour," said Branshaw, who has been on the PGA Tour three times. "You don't want to have to play the Nationwide Tour if you don't have to."

But although Branshaw this year, Kendall last year and Barnes in 2006 barely missed out on graduating after making late-season pushes, Tidland dropped out this year after starting the final week inside the top 25. He was the only player to do so this year, but said he also felt lucky to have been in that position in the first place. He had the victory in Boise on Sept. 14, but that was one of only three top-10 finishes he had this season.

He also had to skip the first two months of the season because his wife, Amy, had a stomach ailment that required three stints in the hospital.

"The bottom line is that I didn't have a very consistent year," he said. "I was fortunate to be that close at the end, and now I still have a chance through Q-school."

Ah yes, Q-school. For the ninth consecutive year.

"Obviously, it's not a good thing to have to go back," said Tidland, who made it through Q-school in 2000 and again in 2006. "But I feel confident because I've been there. I know the courses, I know everything that's going to be thrown at me. It's nothing new."

Peter Yoon is a contributor to ESPN.com's golf coverage.