PGA Tour cards elude area's hopefuls

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. --- Troy Merritt has never played in a PGA Tour event. That's about to change.

Even after making double-bogey on the final hole, Merritt carded 3-under 69 on Monday to win the PGA Tour qualifying tournament, finishing the six-round event at 22-under and one shot ahead of tour veteran Jeff Maggert.

"Probably the most satisfying double-bogey I've ever made," Merritt said.

Matt Jones (66) was third at 19-under, one shot ahead of Martin Flores (65) in the event where the top 25 finishers earned cards on the PGA Tour for 2010. Rickie Fowler made it comfortably, his final-round 70 leaving him tied for 15th.

Of the seven Augusta-area golfers in the event, former University of Georgia golfer Kevin Kisner came the closest to getting his PGA Tour card for 2010, failing by one shot. He posted a final-round 71, finishing in a tie for 26th place. Kisner will be fully exempt on the Nationwide Tour in 2010.

Former USC Aiken standout Scott Brown, who won the money list on the eGolf professional tour this year, rebounded from an opening 77. He followed with rounds of 71-68-73-67-72 to earn a spot on the Nationwide Tour next year. Brown, former Augusta State golfer Major Manning (73) and former Clemson golfer Stephen Poole (73) each tied for 48th place.

Augusta's Emmett Turner (71) tied for 108th place, while Aiken's Alex Hamilton (69) finished in a tie for 116th and Sandersville's David Robinson (73) tied for 140th. Turner, Hamilton and Robinson each will have conditional status on the Nationwide Tour for 2010.

Merritt earned $50,000 for medalist honors. There was no formal ceremony, just a long line of relatives and well-wishers getting autographs and photos taken.

"The trophy is to get to play with the big boys next year," Merritt said.

Five players began the final round outside the magical top-25 barrier and rallied to earn cards. David Lutterus shot the round of the day, 8-under 64, to jump from tied for 28th to tied for eighth. Shane Bertsch made a bigger leap, with 65 getting him from 50th to 15th.

"It's not a real comfortable week," Bertsch said. "But I just kept plugging."

Cameron Tringale moved 23 spots up to 19th, and Spencer Levin and Brent Delahoussaye also made final-round jumps to be among the 25 Q-school graduates. Chris Riley, a 2004 Ryder Cup player for the U.S., also advanced.

Among the notables who did not qualify out of Q-school were major champions David Duval, Todd Hamilton and Shaun Micheel.

Lutterus was 9-under through his first 14 holes of the final round, enjoying a strangely relaxing day on his way to going from having no status anywhere next season to having a PGA Tour card.

"My game just wasn't quite there the first five rounds," he said. "Just clicked today. I was actually enjoying it."

Not everyone did.

The only score that mattered Monday was 9-under, the line between joining the PGA or Nationwide tours for 2010. Ken Duke missed a long birdie try on his final hole, missing by a shot. Two-time PGA Tour winner Tom Pernice Jr. drove into the water on the 18th, made double bogey and fell one shot shy.

Pernice won on the Champions Tour this year, meaning he already had a place to play in 2010.

"True, but I didn't come here to not make it," he said. "Anybody that came here, they come here with the intent and feeling that you're going to make it."

It's not uncommon to see a final-hole meltdown at Q-School, and James Hahn won't forget his 18th hole for some time. A two-putt, and he's on tour. His day ended four putts later.

The first putt was 10 feet short. His second missed by two feet, and Hahn lipped the next one out for good measure.

"I'm not going to beat myself over the head about it," he said. "That's golf."

Hahn was fine. Delahoussaye could barely keep his composure, and he was one of the lucky ones.

Delahoussaye was planning a January honeymoon. Teary-eyed, he called his fiance a few moments after finishing his 108th hole of the week, telling her that plans were changing. He's on tour now, and plans have to change because he's got events to play in January.

"I've been trying for so long," he said. "I'm pretty sure she'll be all right with going to Hawaii instead."

HOW THEY FARED

Seven local golfers finished up the final round of the final stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School on Monday. The top 25 received their PGA Tour cards for the 2010 season. The next 52 golfers received their Nationwide Tour cards for 2010. The remaining players received conditional status on the Nationwide Tour next year.

Troy Merritt finished at 22-under-par to win the six-day event. Here's how the locals finished, with their status for next season:

T-26: a-Kevin Kisner, 8-under

T-48: a-Scott Brown, 4-under

T-48: a-Stephen Poole, 4-under

T-48: a-Major Manning, 4-under

T108: b-Emmett Turner, 4-over

T116: b-Alex Hamilton, 5-over

T140: b-David Robinson, 12-over

a-2010 Nationwide Tour fully-exempt, b-2010 Nationwide Tour conditional status

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