Bubble watch: Barber in the mix after strong start at Pinnacle Bank Championship – pgatour.com

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Six weeks ago, Blayne Barber was debating whether it was time to hang it up. At 31, he’d missed the cut in 20 of 29 starts with no top-10s on the season at that point. But just when he thought he was out, the game pulled him back in and provided him an answer: He’s not done yet!
“Honestly, two months ago I would have probably said I was going to walk away at the end of the season,” Barber said. “I’m really trying to figure out what the right answer is there. I’ve been praying about it a lot, talking to a lot of people I trust that are close to me, and this stretch of golf has kind of been the answer to that. So that’s exciting.”
Not only has the Auburn grad rolled off two top-10s in his last four starts, but he’s brought more good golf to the regular season finale at the Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Aetna, opening with rounds of 68-67. At 7-under-par 135, Barber held a one-shot lead after the morning wave and will be in the mix on the weekend. For him to keep his Korn Ferry Tour card, the mission is simple: Win. Entering the week at No. 138 on the Korn Ferry Tour Points Standings, Barber knows his back is against the wall and he’ll be back at Q-School without a victory this week.
“It’s been that way since we started 2021. I had a bad year in 2020. Knew what I needed to do but haven’t turned it on until the last six or eight events of the year,” Barber said. “So, I got nothing to lose. I gotta win to get to the [Korn Ferry Tour Finals], so I’m going to try to just keep swinging and be committed and it’s going well right now.”
Barber, who played four straight years on the PGA TOUR from 2015-2018 and has 105 career TOUR starts to his credit, can’t pinpoint the recent boon to any one thing. He just feels in a better mental head space and feels like his swing recently feels more natural and freer, like he’s not trying to fit it to a methodology or swing thought. Whatever it is, it’s working and he’s glad to see some results are a rough couple years since losing his TOUR card in 2018.
“The last two or three years have been really rough. I feel like through that I’ve learned a lot about myself and a lot about my golf game. It’s humbled me,” Barber said. “I felt optimistic for a while and it felt a little misplaced, but if nothing else, it’s exciting these last 4-6 weeks knowing that I’m doing the right stuff and making strides.”
Austin Smotherman stays patient, grinds his way to the weekend
Austin Smotherman entered the week one spot outside of the top 25 in the Korn Ferry Tour Points Standings, trailing Peter Uihlein by just seven points. But if he missed the cut, the Korn Ferry Tour Finals would be his only shot at a PGA TOUR card. So, at 2-over-par through 23 holes, it would have been easy to hit the panic button and start pressing, but Smotherman’s caddie kept preaching patience and it paid off.
Smotherman made birdies on eight of his last 13 holes to easily make the cut and polish off a 7-under 64. At 6-under 136, Smotherman not only made the cut but will have a great chance at securing his PGA TOUR card this week.
“I knew we had to shoot something today. Caddie kept telling me ‘Patience, patience!’” Smotherman said. “We were 1-over par early in the round, knowing we’re swinging it well and having a ton of looks. And that’s kind of been the name of the game, the word of the week is looks, looks, looks. So, yeah, we rolled some putts in and started hitting it close, driving the ball great, very pleased.”
Although Smotherman’s trying not to pay much attention to where he stands in the Standings, it’s impossible to ignore. He looks over and doesn’t see the top 25 bib on his caddie before and after every shot.
“We’re not wearing the green bib, so it’s kind of in your face,” Smotherman said, “but it’s kind of cool because it’s a little bit of motivation. You know what we’re going to play our way inside it.”
It’s not lost on him what’s at stake this week either.
“It’s everything, dude,” Smotherman said. “So, we’ll be ready!”
Ben Kohles trying to complete the long road back to the PGA TOUR
When it comes to career starts, not many have gone much better than Ben Kohles. Fresh out of the University of Virginia in 2012, Kohles won his first two starts on the Korn Ferry Tour and was off to the PGA TOUR within four months of graduation.
The road since hasn’t been as easy. Kohles lost his TOUR card after a year and has been back on the Korn Ferry Tour trying to work his way back the last seven years. At No. 21 on the Korn Ferry Tour Points Standings entering this week, Kohles is in prime position to do so this year.
“It’s been a long road back. Obviously can’t really start off better than I did to start my career, winning a couple tournaments in a row to get out on TOUR right away. Learned a lot, played pretty solid that first year but feel like I kind of ran out of gas towards the end,” Kohles said. “Obviously went through some struggles after that and been battling my way back ever since. So obviously with the mega season, it’s been quite a long road back especially after finally getting in the top 25 after a year and not being able to graduate. So, it’s been a grind. Hopefully I have a good shot at still getting through and see what happens.”
After opening with rounds of 70-71, Kohles is firmly on the cutline at 1-under and isn’t sure if he’s done enough to play the weekend or to secure his PGA TOUR card. But he won’t be sweating. He’s done what he can and will let the chips fall where they may.
“I don’t really care to look,” Kohles said. “Like I said all I can control is what I do. I knew if I had a good week this week, I could lock it up. Play solid, do the best I can and just see what happens. Yeah, bubble and the 25 and bubble on the cut. So, we’ll kind of hang out this afternoon, look a little later and see what happens.”
Brett Drewitt heading to the weekend and potentially the PGA TOUR
Brett Drewitt entered this week’s regular season finale firmly inside the top 25 at No. 22 in the Korn Ferry Tour Points Standings, 70 points ahead of Peter Uihlein in 25th. He knew his spot would likely hold, but the last thing he wanted was to miss the cut and leave it up to chance.
After opening with a 2-over 74, Drewitt’s chances of the weekend were in trouble, but the 30-year-old rallied in a big way Friday, shooting a 4-under 67 to earn himself two more rounds this weekend and a likely spot at the PGA TOUR card ceremony on Sunday.
“Yeah, I’ve looked at the standings. I know I’m 95% of the way there. It’s going to take a lot from other guys to pass me,” Drewitt said. “But, obviously, my No. 1 goal for this week was to make the cut, give myself four days to play and the best chance. I don’t want to leave it in someone else’s hands. I just wanted to play four good rounds of golf. Didn’t want to think about the number. Let myself take care of it.”
With two more rounds locked up, Drewitt’s sitting in a great spot barring some major moves from those behind him, but still he’s not taking anything for granted over the weekend. He knows what’s on the line for everyone this weekend at The Club at Indian Creek.
“It means a lot. There’s jobs on the line. There’s promotions on the line,” Drewitt said. “As much as all these players are going to miss Pumpkin Ridge and Portland, I think this is a great venue to have the finale. It’s a tough golf course, there’s rough, can be wind, it’s firm. It’s in great condition. I think there are going to be some good finishes on the weekend for guys to get their card and for guys to keep their jobs for next year.
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