If you ever needed proof of how difficult it is to keep a job on the PGA Tour, just look at the field this week at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. There are 23 past tour winners outside of the top 125 on the money list fighting for their livelihoods on the Magnolia and Palm courses at the Walt Disney resort outside Orlando, Fla.
These players have combined for 84 wins and more than $340 million in earnings.
Some of these veterans, such as Duffy Waldorf, Rocco Mediate and Bart Bryant, have a nice landing pad ahead on the Champions Tour. Others, such as Justin Leonard, Jerry Kelly and Stuart Appleby, might use a one-time exemption for next year from their places on the career money list, but the vast majority are trying to avoid a trip to Q-school, whose 29 graduates from 2012 are in great abundance this week.
There are 24 grads from that class in the field at Disney, with 14 of them outside the top 125 and likely headed back to that grueling six-round tournament. That's not the kind of end to their seasons they were looking for when they got their cards in December 2011 in La Quinta, Calif.
Yet they can hold out hope that their games will catch fire in the vein of Tommy Gainey, when he shot a 60 in the final round of the McGladrey Classic to win his first tour title. Gainey, who is in the field this week, has made 78 percent of his earnings this year in two tournaments.
These former tour winners and Q-school graduates are hoping to have some Gainey-like magic in an event that historically surrenders low scores. Luke Donald won the event last year with a 17-under-par total.
This is the last year of this brand of Hail Mary for tour players. After this week, if a player gets on a long missed cut streak, he'll have four fewer tournaments on the regular tour schedule next year to salvage his season.
Beginning in 2013, these players outside of the top 125 after the Wyndham Championship next August will have a break during the FedEx Cup playoffs before they compete for 50 tour cards over four events with players off the Web.com Tour.
Donald won in Disney last year to cap one of the most consistent seasons in golf history. But with the Englishman and most of the top-ranked players not in the tournament, the winner this time around is likely to be a scrappier fellow who's enthusiastic about getting one more shot at a positive punctuation on his season.
Here are six players in the field in that embarrassing predicament of possibly losing their cards. These guys might do something special to avert the slog of Q-school or some equally humbling condition such as Monday qualifying, a reliance on sponsor's exemptions or an entitlement like a special exemption for years of past success.
These veterans can't all keep their cards and most of them won't if they have played this bad up to this point, but they could make things exciting come Sunday.
Vaughn Taylor: The 36-year-old, two-time winner looked out of place last year at Q-school, where he finished T-5. Last year, Taylor struggled with his wedge play and putting and couldn't score on Sunday. He ranked 171st on tour in final-round scoring. The Augusta, Ga., native has carried that trend over into this year. But Taylor is never going to wow anybody with statistics. At 142nd on the money list, he's got to play great all four rounds.
Justin Leonard: I know the former Open champion has options. He can use a one-time money list exemption to play next year, but for a guy with his pedigree -- major champion, 12 wins, 381 made cuts -- his ego must be aching. The 40-year-old has got to do something to revive his career.
Jerry Kelly: The hockey-loving grinder from Wisconsin has been one of the most consistent under-the-radar players in the game throughout his career. This is his worst season in more than a decade. Though most of the courses on tour are too long for him, at 45, Kelly isn't ready to rest on his laurels. Don't be surprised to see him move up from 137th on the money list to cross the top 125 threshold by the end of the week.
Chez Reavie: At the 2011 Deutsche Bank Championship, Reavie was one decent gap wedge at the 72nd hole from winning the tournament and getting a two-year exemption. Reavie hasn't had a top-10 since that special week in Boston. The former Arizona State standout has played most of his career with knee pain. He's a tough kid. It doesn't scare him to sit at 132nd on the money list at the start of the Disney tournament on Thursday.
Tim Petrovic: The 46-year-old split time this year between the regular tour and the Web.com Tour. Not much was going his way until a tie for second last month at the Frys.com Open lifted him from the doldrums to a realistic chance of getting his card back. At 134th on the money list, he's a player to watch, especially after his finish at the Frys.
Tim Herron: The Minnesotan is another grizzled veteran trying to use Disney to lock up his card for next year. "Lumpy" has a top-10 in the Fall series at Las Vegas, but you never know what you're going to get from him. Herron missed 11 of 26 cuts on the year, but when he gets into contention, he knows how to stay there. At 136th on the money list, he's got a difficult road ahead, but he's armed with experience to pull himself out of the hole.