By BOB HARIG
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001
More than a few people wondered what Bryce Molder was thinking. A college standout at Georgia Tech who competed for the United States team in the Walker Cup, the most prestigious of amateur events followed, with Molder skipping it to turn professional.
Why not wait a week?
Molder skipped the U.S. Amateur, played at East Lake in Atlanta, practically a home course for a Georgia Tech golfer. Instead, he took a sponsor's exemption into the PGA Tour's Reno-Tahoe Open, getting a jump on his pro career.
All he did was finish third, earning $204,000. And his decision looks pretty good now.
"I guess it does for those out there who still wonder why I did this," Molder said. "But it doesn't matter to me what they think."
You can argue that Molder has a lifetime to earn his PGA Tour riches. But for a player turning pro at this stage of the year, every week is crucial.
By performing so well in his first outing as a pro, Molder is 154th on the PGA Tour money list. The top 125 at the end of the year earn exempt status for the 2002 season.
"I think it's a realistic goal," he said.
Even if he only cracks the top 150, Molder would be exempt into the final stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, while having limited status on the tour next year. Even the prestige of a U.S. Amateur title would not have meant that.
It is unlikely Molder was thinking of such on Sunday. Only the fourth player in NCAA history to be named a four-time first-team All-American (joining Wake Forest's Gary Hallberg, Tech's David Duval and Arizona State's Phil Mickelson), Molder shot a second-round 65 Saturday, pulled into a tie for the lead Sunday, and finished third after 71, his highest score of the tournament.
"I just never really got in a rhythm with my golf swing," said Molder, the low amateur at the U.S. Open, where he tied for 30th. "I was pretty lucky to shoot 1 under. I hung in there and I think I can learn more and do better next time."
That is this week at the Air Canada Championship. By finishing in the top 10, he earned a spot in the field. And as a nontour member, he is allowed to accept up to seven sponsor's exemptions, one of which he is expected to use in two weeks at the Tampa Bay Classic.
Molder has at least seven tries to earn the $400,000 or so needed for his PGA Tour card. And he's halfway there.
TIGER WATCH:Tiger Woods' playoff victory over Jim Furyk at the NEC Invitational was the 29th of his five-year PGA Tour career. Woods matched Jack Nicklaus for most wins by a player before his 30th birthday -- and Woods doesn't turn 26 until Dec. 30. He also is tied for 16th in PGA Tour victories all time with Gene Littler and Paul Runyan. He is one behind Leo Diegel and two behind Harry Cooper and Jimmy Demaret.
MORE TIGER: Woods is expected to defend his title at next week's Canadian Open, which will be played at the site of his only missed cut as a pro. Woods won last year's Canadian Open at Glen Abbey. This year's tournament is at Royal Montreal Golf Club, where in 1997 Woods missed the cut. Although he was credited with a missed cut in 1998 when he did not return to play a weather-delayed final round at Pebble Beach, the 1997 event is truly the only time he failed to qualify for the weekend rounds. Woods has made 75 straight cuts, which ranks fourth all time.
TAMPA BAY CLASSIC:The tournament received commitments from Jean Van de Velde and former U.S. Open champion Scott Simpson, along with 2001 tournament winners Jose Coceres and Robert Damron. Simpson is the fifth major-championship winner in the field, along with John Daly, Fuzzy Zoeller, Lee Janzen and Mark Brooks. The event is Sept. 13-16 at the Westin Innisbrook Resort.
GARCIA IN RYDER CUP: Sergio Garcia will play in next month's Ryder Cup "even if he shoots 95-95 this week," European captain Sam Torrance said. "He's No. 7 in the world. Just let him loose. Just point him and go."
Torrance said his other captain's pick will be determined by what happens at the BMW International Open starting today.
Torrance will announce his choices for the 12-man team Sunday after the tournament officially establishes the 10 players who get automatic spots for the Sept. 28-30 contest at the Belfry.
Jesper Parnevik is seen as having the inside track as the second selection.
AROUND GOLF: John Cook's victory at the Reno-Tahoe Open was the eighth this year by a player age 40 or older. The others: Scott Hoch (twice), Mark Calcavecchia, Hal Sutton, Jeff Sluman, Kenny Perry and Tom Pernice Jr. ... When Clearwater's Walter Hall won the Canada Senior Open, he became the fourth straight first-time winner, a first in Senior PGA Tour history.
-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.