Mayfair took long way to 54-hole lead

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- His career has spanned more than 20 years, encompassing some 650 events, with earnings of more than $18 million.

For those reasons, the snooze button must have gotten a workout from Billy Mayfair at 3 a.m. Monday, if he didn't consider beating the alarm into submission.

Mayfair, 43, didn't really need a 6 a.m. flight out of New Orleans so he could change planes in Atlanta and arrive in Charlotte at noon -- not even knowing whether his golf bag would make it -- so he could hustle off to a four-spot qualifier just on the odd chance he might make the field for this week's Quail Hollow Championship.

Did he?

"I told him we're going," his wife, Tammy, joked Saturday after her husband finished with the 54-hole lead, 2 shots ahead of Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III.

Yes, the decision sure looks good now. Mayfair endured the hassle, landing in Charlotte just 45 minutes before his tee time at Country Club of Carolina.

Tammy got the rental car, Mayfair's luggage -- including golf bag -- came off first and off they dashed to the course, which, fortunately, was just a few minutes away.

"He wouldn't let me drive because he feared I would get the ticket," she said.

With a brief warm-up, Mayfair went out and shot 65 to lead the qualifier, which only got him the chance to play in the $6.5 million tournament.

If Mayfair wins Sunday, he'll become the first Monday qualifier to win on the PGA Tour since Fred Wadsworth at the Southern Open in 1986.

That shows how rare the feat is and how unlikely this run is by Mayfair. Of course he's now glad he came and qualified, even though it was far from easy to put himself through the ordeal.

"It was, especially when I missed my flight Sunday night," Mayfair said. "My wife Tammy probably spurred me on more than anything. She said, 'You're playing well; let's go see what happens.' It was probably her coaxing that got me up that morning and got me going."

Mayfair, a cancer survivor, is in his current position because he finished 157th on the 2009 PGA Tour money list. Since he ended up outside the top 150, his only status is as a past champion, meaning he would get in just a few events without sponsor exemptions.

Without a spot in the field, without a sponsor exemption, there is no choice left but to try to qualify if you want to play.

"Obviously it's not fun not being exempt, 21 years being fully exempt, and this is my first year I haven't been, and it's been a tough road so far," he said. "There are a lot of players out here who aren't exempt, too, and the tournament directors have some very tough decisions to make. … Obviously if I can get myself in a good position and win, I don't have to worry about that for a while."

The first time he tried a Monday qualifying earlier this year was at the Sony Open in Hawaii, where he failed to make the field. Before that? Mayfair said he hadn't had to go the Monday route since 1989 at a tournament in Tucson.

Mayfair has five victories in his PGA Tour career, the last coming in 1998 at the Buick Open. He also won earlier that year at the Los Angeles Open, defeating Tiger Woods in a playoff -- Woods' only playoff defeat on the PGA Tour.

In 1995, Mayfair won the Tour Championship and finished second to Greg Norman on the money list.

But those days are long ago, and chances at victory have been fleeting.

At last week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Mayfair had to play 28 holes Saturday and 27 on Sunday because of weather delays that ultimately caused him to miss his flight Sunday night.

And that's when thoughts of heading home to Arizona became very prominent in his mind.

"I told him if it was meant to be, then it would all fall into place, and so far it has," Tammy Mayfair said.

Of course, the hard work was just beginning. Mayfair shot rounds of 68-68 to take the 36-hole lead and was paired with Angel Cabrera in the last twosome Saturday.

With course conditions more difficult, Mayfair made three birdies and two bogeys and built the 2-shot lead over Mickelson and Love, with a 3-shot advantage over J.J. Henry, Dustin Johnson and Cabrera.

"The nerves are there. I won't lie to you," Mayfair said. "If you're not nervous, you're not alive, not breathing. I feel real confident. Today was a big day for me to get over that hurdle, to stay there, to keep the lead and keep that confidence. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow."

As well as sleeping in Monday.

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