Commentary

Former major winner, NCAA champion sprinkled in at Q-school

Originally Published: November 24, 2008
By Peter Yoon | Special to ESPN.com

The final stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament gets under way Dec. 3 at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.

It's a six-round pressure cooker, with this year's field of 163 players vying for playing privileges on the 2009 PGA Tour. Those who finish among the top 25 receive full exemptions. The next 50 finishers are fully exempt for the Nationwide Tour, and everyone else is conditionally exempt for the Nationwide Tour.

So, over the course of six rounds, players are playing for their futures. Here's a look at some notable players and other players of interest who will be competing this year:

Ricky Barnes

Ricky Barnes

Barnes

A former hot prospect who won the 2002 U.S. Amateur and then finished 21st at the 2003 Masters, Barnes already earned a PGA Tour card when he finished 25th on the Nationwide Tour money list. But he's playing to improve his position on the exempt list. He needs to finish 24th or better to do that.

Barnes has spent the past five years playing mostly on the Nationwide Tour and in select PGA Tour events on sponsor exemptions. He narrowly missed earning a PGA Tour card when he finished 23rd on the Nationwide tour money list in 2006, when the top 22 earned cards.

Notah Begay

Notah Begay

Begay

A four-time PGA Tour winner, Begay is trying to make his way back to the big tour after battling back problems for the past three years.

He is eight years removed from a two-victory season in 2000, the year he rose into the top 20 in the Official World Golf Rankings. He hasn't played more than 12 tournaments in a single year since 2004, but he showed signs that his ailing back was on the way to recovery when he shot a final-round 65 last week in the second stage to make the Q-school finals.

Begay, a former Stanford teammate of Tiger Woods, once shot 59 in a Nationwide Tour event. He qualified for the European Tour in 2007, but played in only 10 events before reinjuring his back.

Mark Brooks

Mark Brooks

Brooks

A 25-year veteran of the PGA Tour, Brooks returns to Q-school for the first time since 1987. He is a seven-time tour winner but has been playing on past champion status since his 10-year exemption for winning the 1996 PGA Championship ran out. That was his last victory, though he lost a playoff to Retief Goosen at the 2001 U.S. Open.

Brooks, who turns 48 in March, finished among the top 125 money leaders every year from 1987 through 2002, but he has made only 51 of 161 cuts since then and has not finished among the top 125 money leaders. He finished a solid seventh at the second stage of Q-school Nov. 15 in Texas and looks primed to make one last push on the PGA Tour before he turns his attention to the Champions Tour in two years.

Jason Day

Jason Day

Day

The 21-year old Australian entered the 2008 season as a much-ballyhooed prospect after he became the youngest winner in Nationwide Tour history in 2007 and finished No. 5 on that tour's money list.

He'll be a little more under the radar this year after struggling to find consistency in his first season on the PGA Tour. He missed the cut 15 times in 28 tournaments and finished 136th on the money list.

He did show promise with a pair of top-10 finishes, however, and with the spotlight a little less bright, the breakthrough that was expected last season could come in 2009.

Todd Demsey

Todd Demsey

Demsey

One of the feel-good stories in golf, Demsey is back in Q-school after finishing 197th on the 2008 PGA Tour money list.

Last year Demsey made the tour for the first time since 1997 after a final-round 64 helped him finish eighth at the final stage of. Demsey has dealt with greater pressures than Q-school, however: He survived two surgeries in 2003 to remove a golf ball-sized brain tumor.

The 1993 NCAA champion, Demsey has spent most of his career on the Nationwide Tour and had his best season in 1999, when he finished 19th on the money list. The next two seasons were hampered by back problems and then the tumor surfaced.

Tommy Gainey

Tommy Gainey

Gainey

Tommy "Two Gloves" might be best known for his appearances on the Golf Channel reality series "The Big Break" -- he won Season 7 -- but he took steps toward PGA Tour success when he finished runner-up to Davis Love III in the final event of 2008.

That finish moved Gainey, who earned his nickname because he is one of the few golfers who wear gloves on both hands, into the top 150 on the PGA Tour money list and got him a conditional card and an exemption into the final stage of Q-school.

The South Carolina native made it through all three stages of Q-school last year and finished 19th at the finals to earn his 2008 tour card, but missed 17 cuts in 23 tournaments before his runner-up at the season finale.

Robert Gamez

Robert Gamez

Gamez

Big things were expected from Gamez when he won his first career start on the PGA Tour -- the 1990 Northern Telecom Tucson Open -- but his career has been a roller coaster ever since.

The three-time PGA Tour winner played the 2008 season on conditional status. He got in 26 events, but finished 190th on the money list and had to make it through the second stage to reach the finals.

He could play on past champion status again, but he's trying to improve his exemption in order to play in more-desirable tournaments. His exemption for winning in 2005 ran out after 2007, so he tried Q-school that winter but injured his wrist in the second round and had to withdraw.

Seung Su Han

Seung-su Han

Han

Han drew attention last year when he became the first amateur to reach the Q-school finals. This year, he made it back again.

But unlike 2007, when Han took advantage of a new rule that allowed amateurs to retain their status through Q-school, Han has turned professional, will forego his senior season at UNLV and will accept whatever card his finish next week nets.

Last year, he finished 149th of 165 and would have had conditional status on the Nationwide Tour. The 22-year-old is worth watching because he has a history of success. He was the 2002 American Junior Golf Association player of the year after winning five AJGA tournaments, breaking the record of four shared by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

John Huston

John Huston

Huston

This seven-time PGA Tour winner once held the tour record for score in relation to par after firing a 28-under 260 at the Hawaii Open in 1998, but he's five years removed from his last victory and finished 153rd on the 2008 money list.

He earned his way to the finals by shooting 67-66 on the weekend to finish fourth in the second stage at Brooksville, Fla.

The 21-year tour veteran has finished outside of the top 125 in consecutive seasons -- the first time that has happened since he joined the tour in 1987. The only other year he failed to crack the top 125 was 1997.

Won Joon Lee

Won Joon Lee

Lee

Lee, who just turned 23, was the second-youngest player on the Nationwide Tour last season yet led the tour in driving distance at 315.7 yards -- a mark that would have also led the PGA Tour.

Born in Korea but raised in Australia, Lee had five top-10 finishes in his rookie Nationwide season and finished No. 50 on the money list. Nicknamed "Boom Boom" because of his prodigious length, he finished second at the Australian Open a year ago -- ahead of such players as Geoff Ogilvy, Aaron Baddeley and Michael Campbell.

This big-hitting rising star has recently relocated to Las Vegas so he can be closer to swing instructor Butch Harmon.

Ted Oh

Ted Oh

Oh

Oh made a name for himself as a rival to Tiger Woods during their junior golf days and famously qualified for the 1993 U.S. Open at age 16, but Oh hasn't lived up to the child prodigy hype.

For most of his professional career, Oh has honed his skills on the Asian Tour, earning that circuit's rookie of the year award in 2001 and finishing 10th on the Order of Merit in 2005. He was 45th on the Order of Merit last season and has yet to win a tournament on a major professional tour.

He played on the Nationwide Tour in 1998 and 1999, finishing 96th on the money list in 1999, but those were the only years he had any exemptions on a major U.S. tour. He's one step away from his first PGA Tour card after making it through the first two stages of Q-school.

Chris Riley

Chris Riley

Riley

Only four years removed from his 2004 Ryder Cup team appearance, Riley is in Q-school for the second consecutive year. In 2007, he finished tied for 129th at the final stage and played 2008 on past champion status.

Riley was a force in 2002 and 2003, when he earned more than $2 million in each season. But he lost his form and by 2005 was 184th on the money list.

Riley does have a Nationwide Tour victory to his credit in 2007 and had some encouraging results in 2008, including a tie for third at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee and three other top-25 finishes. He also had two top-10 finishes in five starts on the Nationwide Tour.

Chris Tidland

Chris Tidland

Tidland

Tidland is well-versed in the trials of Q-school. This is his ninth consecutive year playing in the final stage -- the longest current streak.

He advanced to the PGA Tour twice during that stretch -- in 2001 and 2007 -- but struggled both times. In 2001 he was 176th on the money list, and in 2007 he was 169th.

Tidland had three top-10 finishes on the Nationwide Tour this year, including his first professional victory at the Boise Open, but he finished 28th on the season money list. He has played the Nationwide Tour from 2002 through 2006 as well as in 2008, with a career-best 21st on the money list in 2004.

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

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com