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Overton has a shot at exemption

Palm Harbor player trails Dave Barr by 1 at Ace Group Classic.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003

NAPLES -- The abundance of birdies and the series of red numbers after his name are the only thing Jay Overton has in common with others atop the ACE Group Classic leaderboard.

Unlike Overton, Champions Tour players such as Dave Barr, Vicente Fernandez, Rodger Davis, Jim Thorpe and Tom Watson have security. They have a place to play this week regardless of what happens today.

For Overton, however, the only way he is assured of a spot in the Verizon Classic on Friday is if he wins today.

Anything short of victory means a trip to Fox Hollow Golf Club in New Port Richey on Monday, where more than 150 players will attempt to qualify for the three available spots. A win today would mean a year's exemption on the Champions Tour, formerly the Senior PGA Tour.

Overton, 52, qualified Tuesday for this field, surviving a five-man playoff for three spots. He took advantage Saturday by shooting a course-record 9-under-par 63 at the Club at TwinEagles to trail Barr by one stroke heading into today's final round.

The former director of golf at Palm Harbor's Westin Innisbrook Resort, where he is a consultant, Overton has attempted to play the tour for three years with moderate success despite limited access.

Last year Overton finished 51st on the money list with $345,903 despite playing in just 14 tournaments. He had five top-10 finishes, including a tie for ninth at the ACE Group Classic. But only the top 50 money winners -- he missed by less than $2,000 -- have any status. Overton returned to the national qualifying tournament, where his 13th-place finish was worth tee times in perhaps 10 to 14 events this year, if he's lucky.

"On a very personal basis, sure it's frustrating," Overton said. "But you know that before you get into this thing. I've been as candid and nice about it as I think I can be. This is for PGA Tour players who spent their life on the tour. It's their ball and their bat. Guys like me, we have to go out and play our way in. I'm trying to do it. ... I've been treated well by these guys. I don't feel like an outsider." The Champions Tour is designed to reward players who had PGA Tour success. Those who amassed high career earnings are almost always assured a spot. The top 31 on the combined career money list are exempt every week, as are the top 31 money winners from the previous year.

There are eight fully exempt spots available at the qualifying tournament each year. That means a club pro such as Overton has to play really well to become a regular part of the scene.

Other club pros such as Jim Albus, Tom Wargo and Dana Quigley have had their share of success on the Champions Tour. But their stories are rare.

Barr, who won last weekend's event in Key Biscayne, shot 65 to complete 36 holes at 133, 11-under par. Overton followed his opening 71 with 63, tied with first-round leader Fernandez (68). Davis (65), a long-time fixture on the Australian and European tours, was another shot back at 135 with Thorpe (68). Watson (68) was tied for sixth, three back.

Overton made nine birdies and credited his caddie and son, Jason, 19, for helping read the greens.

"I've got a real set of young eyes reading greens for me," Overton said. "He read everything absolutely perfect." There were nine players within four shots of the lead, which means winning likely will require another low score today.

"I don't think you go out and try to win," Overton said. "Whether it's Monday or qualifying school, with these guys and these courses you have to be very aggressive and just really think about birdieing all the holes. Then you add them up and see what you've got. It's not such thinking about winning or losing. You just have to play as hard as you can."

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