December 1, 2008

Finding the past

Jason Gore and Olin Browne once had a shot at the U.S. Open. Now they just want a shot.

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Golf at its core is simply a game of numbers, and they either work for you or against you, with a dispassionate disregard for history. And so it is that a pair of headliners from one of golf’s great stages, the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, suddenly find themselves at one of its least appealing venues, the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.

Only 3 1/2 years ago, Jason Gore and Olin Browne were tied for the Open lead through 36 holes, were tied for second through 54. Though they closed with 84 and 80, respectively (finishing tied for 49th and tied for 23rd), they were playing for a national championship then. Now they’re playing for a job.

Browne, at least, has a fall-back position. He turns 50 in May, when the Champions Tour awaits, should he be left without options. Why, then, is he here, putting himself through what the players affectionately call "Hell Week."

"I'm doing this because I'm a glutton for punishment," he said Thursday, after posting a six under par 66 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course that placed him in a tie for 49th one-third of the way through the six-round affair. "I'm doing this because I want to keep playing."

The winner of three PGA Tour events, Browne earned only $167,025 from 27 starts in 2008 and finished 204th on the money list. He won’t commit to whether he intends to play the Champions Tour full time until he knows what his options are.

"I'm worried what I'm going to do tomorrow," he said. "Then I'll be worried what I'm going to do the next day, and so on through the end of the week. Then I'll figure out what I’m going to do."

Gore, 34, is here because he attempted to play through a thyroid disease for which he was unable to secure a diagnosis for much of the summer. Because he played, he is not entitled to a medical exemption. Were he given a mulligan, he said, he would not have played and would have sought a medical exemption.

"It is what it is," Gore said following a round of 69 on the Stadium Course that put him in a tie for 113th. "I don’t even know how to describe it. You take your lumps and just try to earn your card back this way. I'm still going to get some events next year. It might actually be a good thing if I don’t go play 35 events like I’ve been doing in years past. Take a little more time off and get some rest."

Gore is taking medication for the disease "that nobody could figure out what it was," he said. "It took me six doctors before I found out."

The disease caused perpetual fatigue, yet he played on. In a nine-tournament stretch from March through the U.S. Open in June, Gore missed the cut seven times and withdrew twice. For the year, he played in 33 events, earning $779,664 to finish 134th on the money list.

He has yet to return to full strength ("not even close," he said) and has another doctor's appointment next week, when he'll be re-evaluated. "They'll just keep upping the medication," he said.

Gore will need to amp up his efficiency during the final 72 holes to retain the full exemption he has had since earning a battlefield promotion by virtue of winning three times on the Nationwide Tour in 2005.

He was on the threshold of making a significant move on Thursday, when he hit one in the water on his 15th hole, leading to a double bogey.

So it goes in this game without mercy.