Two years after kidney stones knocked him off the Champions Tour, Orlando’s Gene Jones got back in the same way he did the first time.
Same qualifying venue: TPC Eagle Trace. Same position: First.
“I felt good playing here,” Jones told a tour liaison after Friday’s 2-under-par 70 left him three shots ahead of Jeff Brehaut. “I’ve had some success here and it was a little bit of a benefit for sure coming back.”
The result was nearly a mirror image of how Jones earned his first Champions Tour card. He shared medalist honors at Eagle Trace in 2007, though he was overshadowed by the man who tied him – former major league pitcher Rick Rhoden.
But it was Jones who managed to parlay that card into two additional seasons, finishing among the top 30 on the money list in both 2008 and ’09. A bout with kidney stones, though, derailed his 2010 season.
Jones didn’t play a Champions event in 2011 and got just five starts this past season. “It’s been a crazy couple of years,” he said.
Jones took a four-shot lead into the final day, briefly extended it to five and held steady after a rough patch saw him following a bogey at No.12 with a double bogey one hole later. That allowed Brehaut to close within a shot, but birdies at Nos.16 and 17 sealed the outcome.
“No matter how old you get, Q-School is still a bear,” said Jones, who finished four days at 13-under 275.
Brehaut fired a 68, overtaking Wales pro Mark Mouland (72) for the second spot. John Riegger (66) and Canada’s Jim Rutledge (71) survived a playoff for two remaining full cards after four men finished at 6-under.
Despite playoff disappointment, though, Taiwan’s Chie-Hsiang Lin (71) and Mexico’s Esteban Toledo (71) will get a half-season of starts – Brehaut and Riegger can’t officially join the tour until they turn 50 next June.
Jeff Freeman, the Country Club of Orlando pro who topped last year’s qualifying, will have limited status next year after a closing 69 lifted him into a tie for eighth. Orlando’s David Peoples missed a chance for limited status when he closed with a 73.
Kissimmee’s Damon Green, caddie for former Masters champion Zach Johnson, also missed a chance at a limited card after closing with a 72. Both he and Peoples, though, are exempt into all Monday qualifying events they choose to enter.Jeff Shain covers golf for the Orlando Sentinel and Tribune Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffShain, or reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.