LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. (AP) - Kevin Chappell was on the Magnolia Course practice range at Disney, his only concern getting in nine holes of practice under gathering clouds and trying to remember which golf cart was his.
It’s a relaxing week at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, but not for everyone. So when Chappell saw a familiar face behind him, he asked, “Are you paying attention to the top or the bottom?”
For a town geared toward amusement, stress is running high across from the Magic Kingdom.
At the top is Webb Simpson and Luke Donald, who are No. 1 and No. 2 on the PGA Tour money list, both believing that to win the money title would also make them heavy favorites to win player of the year.
At the bottom are players who are struggling to finish in the top 125 to keep full-time jobs for next year.
“I’m here to win the money title, and I’m probably going to need to win to do that,” said Donald, who is $363,029 behind Simpson. “So it feels a little bit like the FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship. Third place isn’t going to get it done.”
Donald finished in a three-way tie for third at the Tour Championship, and thus wound up third in the FedEx Cup. But a final birdie at East Lake gave him a small lead on the money list _ until Simpson decided to play Sea Island last week, lost in a playoff and picked up $432,000 to move well ahead.
Simpson feels as though he has nothing to lose regardless of what happens. A year ago, he was No. 207 in the world and had just secured his PGA Tour card. Now he is golf’s only $6 million man, a two-time winner who is No. 12 in the world.
“Talking to my wife yesterday, we just said, ‘If we don’t win the money title or player of the year, in no way will we be disappointed,’” Simpson said. “We obviously want to do those things, but this year has been a success all throughout. Whatever happens, we’re going to be happy. But we do want to finish strong and try to have a clean sweep. It would be awesome.”
The stress is far greater toward the bottom.
The PGA Tour decided to put Simpson and Donald in the same group the opening two rounds, which surprised no one. They will have amateur partners on the Palm and Magnolia courses before the cut is made after Friday, and then the amateurs leave and everyone plays the final two rounds on the longer, stronger Magnolia course.
The mischievous side of golf officials was putting Bobby Gates and James Driscoll _ Nos. 124 and 125 on the money list _ in the same group as both feel the heat of trying to make the cut, and then set about making sure they stay in the top 125.
“I think they have kind of a twisted irony in them,” Gates said. “It’s tough, but it’s our jobs, and we’re competing against each other.”
Among those on the bubble are D.J. Trahan at No. 123 and Billy Mayfair at No. 127.
Matt Jones was on the Disney range Wednesday morning a few spots away from Chappell, and they could not have looked any differently. Chappell would blast a beautiful fade with his driver, then stop to chat. Jones lined up a pair of rectangular boxes on each side of his golf ball, trying to work on his swing plane.