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John Holmes wins PGA Tour Q-School

John Holmes played the best golf, while Bill Haas and Danny Ellis delivered the drama Monday to join 29 others who survived the most grueling week on the PGA Tour to earn their cards for next year.

Holmes became the first player in 22 years to leave college and win the PGA Tour qualifying tournament, closing with a 3-under 69 to win by three shots over Alex Cejka of Germany. It was a magnificent week at Orange County National for Holmes, the former Kentucky star who helped the United States win the Walker Cup this summer. He was the only player to shoot in the 60s all six rounds.

"I'm just glad it's over," said Holmes, who finished at 24-under 408. "I made it pretty easy on myself this week. I just went out there and tried to play 18 holes every day and act like I was playing with my buddies. It was a relief when that last putt went in on the last hole."

Typical of the last day at Q-school, there were high-wire acts and train wrecks, and tears of joy and disbelief.

Haas, who narrowly missed his card last year, was headed for more heartache on the Panther Lakes course when he bogeyed the 15th hole to fall to 9 under, two shots below the projected cut line.

But with his father, Jay Haas, nervously watching, the rest of the round was pure clutch.

The 23-year-old Haas holed a 10-foot putt to save par on the 16th, made birdie on the 17th and came to the par-5 18th needing a birdie to get his card. From 203 yards away in the left rough, he chased his approach onto the front of the green, lagged his 50-foot eagle putt to inside 3 feet and sneaked it in the right side for a 72.

His father put his hand over his heart in relief, emotion shared by the son.

"It was tough out there today," Haas said. "I thought I was going the wrong way. Somehow, I snuck a putt in on the last hole. I was shaking. I was nervous."

Ellis was even more spectacular at the end. He figured 10 under would be the number and wanted to get his chip close enough for a tap-in. He chipped in for eagle, which was a good thing when the cutoff moved to 11 under.

"I was just trying to get it close," Ellis said. "It was perfect."

The best comeback of all belonged to John Engler, a former All-American at Clemson who was told he probably wouldn't play golf again and might never walk properly after a horrific car accident two years ago.

Engler was driving home to Augusta, Ga., after a Hooters Tour event when he was involved in an accident on a rural road that left him trapped in a burning car, with a badly broken leg and head injuries. Two people were killed in the accident, and Engler nearly lost his leg to a staph infection.

But he worked harder than ever, got through the first two stages of Q-school, then shot 67-68 over the final two days to earn his card with two shots to spare.

"When I think of what I've been through the last 30 months," Engler said. "To think you can play a game like golf -- and play it pretty well -- and then have it taken away from you ... words can't describe what it feels like to get the opportunity to get all that back. It just shows that you should never give up."

On the other side of the emotional gamut was Tommy Tolles, who birdied six of nine holes down the stretch to reach 11 under. But when he got to his last hole, No. 9, he put his tee shot in the water and made double bogey to miss by two shots.

Scott Hend, who led the PGA Tour is driving distance this year, was poised to make it easily until he struggled from the start in the final round, shooting 41 on the back nine for a 78 to miss by two shots.

"It was gut-wrenching," the Aussie said. "I feel pretty empty at the moment. No matter what I did, I didn't do the right thing. It wasn't meant to be. I'll just have to work my butt of next year (on the Nationwide Tour).

The last player to go from college to the top of his Q-school class was Willie Wood in 1983. Holmes made it look easy, becoming the first player since Ben Crane in 2001 to post all six rounds in the 60s.

He was joined by two other All-Americans who will be rookies next year -- Nicholas Thompson from Georgia Tech, who tied for third; and Jeff Overton from Indiana, who tied for 13th.

They were among 10 players who made it through all three stages of qualifying. That group included Alex Aragon, who went from a tie for 65th to his tour card by closing with a 65; and Henrik Bjornstad, the first Norwegian player on the PGA Tour.

The next 46 players earned full status on the Nationwide Tour next year, a group that includes Dan Forsman, Steve Stricker and Cameron Beckman, all past champions on the PGA Tour.

Past tour winners who earned their cards included Frank Lickliter and Bill Glasson.

"This is life or death, basically," Glasson said after struggling to a 74 to make it by one. "At least for me on the regular tour, there is always next week or the week after. Out here, there is no next week. It was tough."

December 6, 2005

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