Play Well or Burst for Bubble Boys (in the Happiest Place on Earth)
By Stephanie Wei under Fall Series

Last week's scoreboard...now it's actually the last week to make a move

This week in golf brings out pressure for the opposite ends of the spectrum depending on what kind of year you’ve had, but money is the common thread. The four major champions are reaping one of the many benefits attached to their title and playing in the 2011 PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda — a money grab and made-for-TV event. Luke Donald and Webb Simpson will battle it out for the Tour money title, which will probably also decide Player of the Year. Meanwhile, there are a bunch of guys fighting for their cards or just some sort of status for next year (along with trying to pay off their mortgage).

Some guys need to play their way to finish in the top 125 on the money list to retain their PGA Tour cards for 2012 — otherwise, it’s back to Q-school. For some, at worst, they’ll have what I like to call purgatory status — Nos. 126-150 — which is better than nothing, but you’re pretty low on the pecking order, with Q-school and Nationwide Tour grads receiving priority over guys in this category.

“It’s kind of like knowing you might be the CEO of a company, and if you don’t play well you’re going to be the janitor,” said Disney’s defending champ Robert Garrigus, laughing, at his presser Tuesday. “So that’s kind of what it feels like.”

Garrigus entered the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic No. 122 on the money list and walked away with a trophy, a trip to Kapalua and a two-year exemption.

“Pretty much every single year I’ve come here I’ve needed to finish in the top 5 to get my card,” he said. “This year there is no pressure to do that, but there is also a pressure that I’m the defending champion. There is reason why a lot of guys don’t win the following year after they won before, because it’s a completely different feeling.”

A few months ago, William McGirt faced elimination at the Wyndham Championship, but squeezed his way in as No. 125 in FedExCup points to make the playoffs. Then he tied for 24th at The Barclays, the first leg of the FedExCup, to advance to the Deutsche Bank Championship before he was knocked out. He finished No. 83 in FEC points, but he’s currently No. 138 on the money list — that’s a rather large discrepancy.

“I felt like I played pretty well last week,” said McGirt. “Just didn’t get anything out of it. But, you know, one more week. Who knows. It’s Disney. Magic happens here. See if we can’t make more magic happen.”

McGirt is well aware of his position and what he needs to do to keep his card, along with the worst he can finish on the money list.

“I’ve assured myself of having top 150 status next year, so I’m going to go out and play aggressive all week,” he said. “I think about the worst I can finish would be 142 roughly, so I’m going to have to finish I think — I figured it up last night – probably solo 6 or 7 to finish top 125.”

He described the situation as being in “the bottom of the seventh in Game 7…time to get it done.”

Added McGirt: “If you’re not going to finish 125 or better, you want to finish as high up in that 126 to 150 category as you can. It’s not an easy situation to be in, but it is what it is. All I can do is try to make the most of it.

“You know, at least having that fallback option of Q-School makes it a little bit easier. The thing is, I know I’m going to get somewhere like 10 to 15 starts next year. Seems like every year there is one or two guys out of this category that end up winning. There is life.”

James Driscoll is THE Bubble Boy at No. 125 on the money list. The Tour paired him with Bobby Gates, No. 124.

“The Tour loves doing stuff like that,” said Gates when asked about his pairing for the first two rounds. “I think they have kind of a twisted irony in them.”

While it’s an important week for Gates, he’s trying to “just have fun” and not make it a bigger deal than it is. Which is fair. He knows he has to play well, but I don’t think the pressure really kicks in until you’re in a tight position on Sunday coming down the stretch.

“(Driscoll and I) are at a spot now where we’re just kind of playing and having fun and whatever happens, happens,” said Gates. “I don’t think getting tense or trying to hold on or anything is going to do any good. You’re just going to do more harm than good.”

Here’s a glance at the bubble boys:

Yes, it’s possible Tiger Woods will finish outside the top 125, but he doesn’t need to worry about losing his card since I’m pretty sure he’s exempt per a gazillion other categories, including winning the money title in 2009, which granted him a five-year exemption.

(AP Photo/Stephen Morton)