Noh Pain, Claxton Gain
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Noh playing his way to PGA Tour where he belongs

Regardless of the score they posted, the first word uttered when players wrapped up their rounds of PGA Tour Q-school finals on Saturday was some rendition of “tough.” With the wind gusting ceaselessly at 20-30mph at PGA West, the Nicklaus Tournament and Stadium courses bared its teeth — the fourth round scoring average was 74.33 at Nickalus Tournament and 75.45 at Stadium. The strong breeze, along with the tricky pin placements, created double-bogeys to appear on scorecards frequently and easily.

Some highlights (and lowlights) from Saturday…

*Similar to Thursday, the brutal conditions caused some drastic movement on the leaderboard, but mostly in the wrong direction, like in the case of Brett Wetterich, who was tied for ninth through 54-holes. Things took a turn for not just the bad, but really, really bad, and Wetterich shot 85 on Saturday to drop 126 places to T125 through four rounds. Ouch.

*Wind? Noh problem for Seung-yul. The 20-year-old from South Korea was playing a ridiculously impressive round. He shortly took control of the lead from Will Claxton, who has just been on cruise control all week. Noh, who captured the 2010 Maybank Malaysia Open, co-sanctioned by the European Tour, was nearly flawless for 16 holes. Then he bogeyed the difficult par-3 17th on Nicklaus Tournament, but it wasn’t the end of the world. The most challenging hole is no doubt the par-4 18th, which wreaked havoc for many (I could almost feel the fear players emanated as I watched them prepare to hit the intimidating approach into a narrow green guarded by water along the right).

Noh, who won the 2010 Asia Tour Order of Merit, made a couple of bad swings at the wrong time. He pulled his drive out of bounds and his provisional was saved by a lucky bounce off a mound in the right direction. From the left rough, Noh, who was smartly laying up on his approach (his fourth shot), hit what appeared to be a near shank that sniped right and into the water. He dropped, knocked a wedge on the green, and two-putted for a quadruple-bogey 8 to shoot an even-par 72.

He’s still near the top of the leaderboard at T3 with two rounds to play and trails Will Claxton by four strokes.

Noh’s playing partner Tag Ridings was impressed with what he saw the last 36 holes. “Swings at it great, smart, true professional, nice guy,” said Ridings. “He’s good.”

When told Noh was only 20, Ridings, shaking his head and laughing, said, “He’s 20? — that’s impressive, really impressive. (His game) is incredible.  I couldn’t beat a stick when I was 20.

“He’s going to be a really good player, a really solid professional.  He’s only 20, so I’m not going to throw any big predictions out there when he hasn’t gotten through Q‑school yet.  The fact is he’s probably one of the best players in this field.”

No question about that. Noh is the real deal. He’s also had several fine finishes at majors. Last year at the 2010 U.S. Open he finished T40 at the and a few months later that year at the PGA Championship he placed T28. In 2011 he tied for 30th at both the U.S. Open and British Open.

*Marco Dawson is your quintessential journeyman, who has bounced in between the PGA and Nationwide tours for most of his career. He played in the big leagues from 1991-1997, 2000-2001 and 2003-2008. The 48-year-old Dawson show low-round of the day, a five-under 67 on Nicklaus Tournament, to move from T9 to solo second with a 72-hole total of 13-under.

He’s riding on confidence this week and his impeccable course management has been key to his success.

“The wind was blowing harder than it was on Thursday. I was thinking at the beginning of the day that even par would be a good score,” Dawson said.  “So I didn’t put any pressure on myself to make any birdies or try to hit it close.”

He also hasn’t been bothered by the wind and instead has embraced the conditions.

“On a day like this you just play to hit certain spots where it’s on the fairway or on the green.  I let the wind be my friend. I let it push the ball whichever way it’s blowing.

“I changed something in my swing earlier this year. But I just didn’t putt that well until I went to the belly putt at the John Deere Classic, where I finished tied for 18. And after that I played well the rest of the year.

“It seems easy. But I know that it’s not that easy,” Dawson said.  “I was relaxed. I didn’t get uptight. I was expecting to make a bogey somewhere. But I never did.”

*Harris English, who played his college golf at UGA, kept tabs on the big LSU vs. Georgia game, getting updates several times from Matt Jones’ caddie. Despite struggling with his ballstriking, English posted a solid two-under 70 to move to a tie for third.

“I didn’t hit the ball that great, I just kind of scrapped it around, made a lot of six‑footers for par, which is definitely good round‑savers out here,” he said. “It’s really hard to hit it close to the pin to make birdie, and I was two‑putted from 40 and 50 feet all day, which is really good.  It was a good round.  I really scrambled for a 2‑under.”

Just about five months ago, English, a member of the 2011 U.S. Walker Team, captured the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational as an amateur. The victory gives him a safety net in the rare chance he blows up the next two rounds because he already has full status on the Nationwide Tour in 2012. Which doesn’t give him much pressure and perhaps explains his relaxed demeanor (but he seems pretty chill in general).

“I’m pretty relaxed,” he said. It’s just another tournament.  You’ve got to treat it the same and just keep going shot by shot.  You can’t get ahead of yourself and just stay in the moment.

Similar to leader Will Claxton, English hasn’t checked a scoreboard all week and hasn’t known his position, but he obviously knows he’s in a good place since he’s been paired with Claxton the past two days.

“No, there’s nothing out there (in terms of leaderboards),” he said. “I’m just trying to play one shot at a time.”

Again, like Claxton, he’s received texts from family and friends that have provided him with decent indication.

“They’re saying good playing and stuff, said English. “I’m not really grinding over scores.  I’ve just got to play my game.  That’s it.”

*Will Claxton made an excellent up-and-down on the difficult par-4 18th on Nicklaus Tournament. I’ll let him take you through the hole:

“Let’s see, drive, thinking about hitting hybrid on the green,” said Claxton. “My caddie talked me into hitting 4‑iron and laying up because I’m aiming at the left side of the green, and if anything I’m going to want to pull it, and then my tendency would probably be to pull it in the bunker, and it was just a bad place to be he said.  So we pretty much laid up.  It worked out.”

He pitched his third to about 6 feet and made the clutch putt to end on a high note.

As I’ve mentioned all week, Claxton doesn’t check leaderboards during Q-school, but the combination of text messages from friends and family and Golf Channel cameras trailing his group has given him a good idea. I managed to keep a good poker face the past three days, but slipped up today. He hadn’t received as many text messages Friday and Saturday, so he thought he wasn’t leading anymore. I was speechless, but the look on my face said it all. I apologized profusely, but we got a good laugh.

“Don’t feel bad,” said Claxton after firing a two-under 70 to maintain a two-stroke lead through four rounds. “I don’t care.  That’s my goal is to win the golf tournament.  That’s how I approached first stage and second stage.  The only score I knew at first and second was what was leading, and that’s what I’m shooting after and trying to win a golf tournament and keep going that way.

“I’m sure I’ll know some scores coming down the stretch or something on Sunday because I definitely know every shot at Q‑school means something, no matter whether you’re at the top or the bottom.  Every shot means something.  That’s probably the biggest thing I learned going to Q‑school last year.”

Indeed, it does.